Saskatchewan’s largest health care union, CUPE 5430, is concerned that the government’s cohorting policy is disproportionally hurting almost 6,000 CUPE relief workers.

Introduced on April 28, cohorting in long-term care means that workers can only work in one facility, which is helping make facilities safer, but could also have a devastating impact on the health care workers who depend on shifts at multiple facilities to help make ends meet. Relief workers have no guaranteed hours and must often work at multiple facilities to cobble together enough work to make a living and support their families. Part-time workers usually also hold a relief position to make up full-time hours.

“Relief workers are providing critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sandra Seitz, President of CUPE 5430. “But they haven’t been spared the burden of job insecurity. The government has to act right now so that our front-line heroes in health care aren’t being left behind.”

While the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is honouring the guaranteed hours of full-time and part-time workers, it has made no such guarantees for its relief employees – even though many relief workers normally work up to full-time hours. Seitz wants the government to act right away to keep relief workers whole, as cohorting is expected to carry on for several more months.

“Health care workers are doing everything they can to help keep our communities healthy,” Seitz continued. “It isn’t fair or right for the government to put out a policy that disproportionally burdens precariously employed relief workers. The government and the SHA have to do better – now.”

For years, CUPE has been highlighting the problems with short staffing in long-term care and its impacts on residents and workers. Health care staffing in Saskatchewan has become over-reliant on part-time, temporary and relief work over the years, leaving fewer and fewer workers with secure, full-time employment under the guise of providing “flexibility” in staffing.