Job security, threat of privatization concern NAPE members
Dan Whitten (left) who works for Eastern Health as a cook, and Leo Hutchings, a food service worker, join other Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees as Eastern Health workers demonstrate outside St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Thursday. They were protesting the announcement Tuesday by Eastern Health that it will eliminate the equivalent of 550 full-time jobs to save $43 million. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Signs firmly gripped and shouting slogans with gusto, members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s held a two-hour demonstration Thursday in response to cuts announced Tuesday by Eastern Health.
In order to save $43 million, the regional health authority is set to eliminate the equivalent of 550 full-time positions through a combination of attrition, reduced overtime, and cutbacks to temporary positions, among other measures.
The fact permanent employees will not receive layoff notices is cold comfort for Dan Whitten, who has been a cafeteria worker at the hospital for 31 years.
‘Nobody is safe’
“My concern is for everybody. Nobody is safe. All these temporary employees we have, they’re playing a major role. It’s not just the permanent workers. A lot of work is being picked up by the temporaries, and if these people are laid off, God help the health care, I’m telling you right now.
“They’re all my friends. They are families that I’m worrying about. It starts at the top and works itself down the line. Every family is going to be affected here in St. John’s and wherever.”
Among those Whitten is concerned about is his own daughter, Renee Whitten, a licensed practical nurse who also works at St. Clare’s, albeit in a temporary position. Of late, she has been filling in as a personal care attendant.
“I’m scared for my future as a nurse. I’m scared for my family. Sometimes I wake up and think I don’t know why I chose this profession. Before, I never felt that way, but lately, it’s something that’s been crossing my mind more and more.”
‘We’re at the bare minimum as it is,’ says local president
Dan Whitten was among those workers who attended a meeting Tuesday about the impending changes.
“When people walked out of that meeting, you could see a lot of people with water in their eyes, because it really hurt.”
Scott Mercer, local president for NAPE 6207, is skeptical of Eastern Health’s assertion the cuts will not hurt patient care.
“We’re at the bare minimum as it is, and for me, I just don’t understand the reasons for it.”
Mercer said housekeeping at the hospital was informed that 2 1/2 positions will be lost as a result of the changes.
“How is that not losing permanent jobs? Those 2 1/2 positions being taken out today, who picks up the work?”
The full-time equivalent measurement system uses the total hours worked by staff to equal the hours that account for a full-time job. This means two or more people can work a full-time job.
NAPE president Carol Furlong, addressing the demonstrators shortly after noon, called Tuesday’s announcement the first step towards privatizing health-care services in Newfoundland and Labrador, referencing Eastern Health’s plan to privatize all non-patient food services.
“I’d say the people of this province have got to say no to privatization of any health-care service,” she said, to which the demonstrators responded with a repeated chant of “No.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael and Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons also addressed demonstrators Thursday, with each politician voicing support for the plight of the workers.
Mercer said some of the temporary employees at St. Clare’s have worked with that designation for 12 to 15 years. Even though permanent workers may not face the threat of layoff notices, he said they are concerned about whether they may be forced to work at a different facility as a result of the impending changes.