About 50 tradesmen — electricians, painters, plumbers — took their lunch breaks to rally outside of the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s today.
The workers said they were highlighting the growing wage disparity between public and private sector workers, specifically between tradespeople inside Eastern Health and those working for private contractors. The gap, they say, is causing problems with worker recruitment and retention inside the provincial healthcare system.
It is another issue in the province’s growing list of items to be considered under the umbrella of skilled trades and apprenticeships.
Electrical foreman Keith Moore said he was taking part because he feels the wage gap is too large. As an example, he claimed, an electrician with Eastern Health makes about $23.50 an hour, while the wage “just across the street” at Memorial University of Newfoundland is about $33.
“We work with eachother. We do power tests together. Do you think that’s right?”
While both numbers might sound high, the Eastern Health wages are stated before deductions for benefits and, in both cases, the wages are lower than those being offered by private industry, he said.
Electrician Paul Smith said he has been with Eastern Health for 10 years and his take home is along the lines of $13 or $14 an hour.
The result of wages at that level, he said, is a loss of workers to private industry jobs and a tough time recruiting replacement workers who still need time, sometimes years, to learn all the aspects of plying their trade within the healthcare system.
Smith and other workers, as well as NAPE president Carol Furlong, said wage issues have been before the provincial government for years now but nothing has been done.
Furlong said she sees a “crisis” for tradespeople working within government, particularly as provincial megaprojects come online over the next few years, pulling skilled workers away from their current jobs and into higher paying positions.
If something is not done, she said, “we are going to find ourselves with a major problem down the road.”
NDP MHA for St. John’s North, Dale Kirby, was the only MHA to attend the event. Kirby is the NDP’s critic on Advanced Education and Skills and Labour.
Kirby said the skilled labour shortage noted in some, not all, trades as of late is one issue. The issue of the healthcare system losing skilled workers to the high wages in the private sector is another.
“I think the workers here are making a good argument,” he said, encouraging the province and Eastern Health to find a way to “get out ahead of” anticipated worker losses as projects like Hebron ramp up and offer better wages to workers already in the system.
“I don’t think it’s going to grossly increase wages to some unaffordable point.”
More in tomorrow’s edition.