July 15, 2024

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A group of health-care workers has launched a class-action lawsuit against Alberta Health Services (AHS), alleging the organization violated the Employment Standards Code by overworking and underpaying them.

The lawsuit was filed on April 26 in Court of King’s Bench in Calgary on behalf of clinical assistants (CA) as well as clinical and surgical assistants (CSA) and seeks damages of up to $125 million.

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Those who are CAs or CSAs have graduated from medical schools outside of Canada and the United States, have at least one full year of hands-on training, and completed an English language proficiency exam.

Many of the workers involved in the lawsuit are fully trained doctors in their home countries, including the lead plaintiff.

Those workers allege that between 2013 and 2022, AHS consistently informed them verbally and in writing that they were exempt from receiving overtime pay, which they claim is against provincial legislation. They further claim to have routinely worked shifts longer than 12 hours, and in some instances as long as 24 hours.

In Dec. of 2022, AHS reversed course and stated it would provide overtime pay as well as a lump-sum payment for overtime work dating back to April of 2022.

The suit argues that move represented only a partial payment and that wages going back to 2013 remain unpaid.

“As the largest employer in Alberta, AHS must know they continue to be in contravention of the law by denying these hard-working medical professionals fair pay and a safe working environment,” Ariel Breitman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, stated in a news release.

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“AHS needs to acknowledge these historical and ongoing transgressions against the men and women who care for us when we are in need and come to the table to work towards a fair resolution that ensures proper compensation for these workers.”

The workers argue Alberta’s Employment Standards Code gives them the right to overtime pay, rest periods, and work shifts not exceeding 12 hours barring exceptional circumstances.

The statement of claim indicates there are around 228 workers currently at AHS who would be part of the class action as well as an unknown number who are no longer work for the agency.

The class action has not been certified and the workers’ claims have not been tested in court.

‘We hope for a fair resolution’: NDP

AHS said it was aware of the litigation but declined comment as the matter is before the court.

The office of Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said it was an AHS matter and declined comment.

Opposition labour critic Peggy Wright said the allegations highlighted how health-care workers continue to be overworked and in need of more support.

“We hope for a fair resolution to this case as the Alberta NDP have, and always will, stand with the working people of Alberta.”

On its website, AHS describes CAs and CSAs as “mid-level provider(s) under the supervision and direction of physician supervisor(s) to provide acute care coverage.”

It lists common job duties as conducting physical exams, writing orders, documenting patient history, and in the case of CSAs, providing pre- and post-operative care as well as surgical assistance during operations.

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