By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Alberta, which has among the country's highest tallies of COVID-19 infections and is running one of its largest fiscal deficits, said on Monday that it would eliminate up to 11,000 government health jobs to save money.
The cuts will not affect frontline clinical staff including doctors and nurses during the pandemic, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said. Some 9,700 to 11,000 Alberta Health Services (AHS) jobs will be outsourced over three years, such as laboratory and laundry services, while 100 management jobs will be eliminated along with certain other office positions.
The job cuts will save the government up to C$600 million ($456.86 million) annually, and will also improve the efficiency, Shandro said.
"Contracting out isn't a reduction in deployment," the health minister said. "In most cases, it's a matter of workers changing their employer from AHS to the independent provider."
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, predicted the private sector will deliver lower quality services for higher costs to build in a profit margin.
"They'll do that by cutting corners," he said.
A review of health services began last year, with results announced in February. The report from consultants had recommended deeper job cuts to achieve greater savings, but the government scaled back the changes due to the pandemic, Shandro said.
The provincial economy relies on oil and gas production, but pandemic travel restrictions have hammered demand in that sector, resulting in bankruptcies and layoffs. Alberta forecasts a record-high C$24.2 billion fiscal deficit for 2020-21.
Alberta's daily coronavirus cases have climbed, hitting a record high last week. The province had 2,225 active cases as of Monday, third-most after Quebec and Ontario.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Aurora Ellis)