SHA yanking RFP after health unions insulted by whistleblower hotline idea

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) says it is withdrawing a request for proposals for a “whistleblower hotline” in the wake of heavy criticism from health sector unions, who say they were never consulted on the idea.One union local warned the SHA’s pitch for an anonymous hotline to report employees could even create “an atmosphere of mistrust,” while another called it an “insult to staff.”SEIU-West and CUPE 5430 both said they learned about the proposal after the request for proposals (RFP), which sought information form external contractors, appeared on a public tendering website. The idea was pitched as a means of reporting violations of policy, codes of conduct or legal requirements. “I’m not very impressed,” said Barb Cape, president of SEIU-West. She said union officials met with SHA as recently as Friday and were never told about the proposal. “Without any clear picture, I am not in favour of this,” she said. “Absolutely not.” Her concerns aren’t limited to how the proposal was communicated. Cape said she was left wondering what it will mean for her members if it goes ahead. She asked how the SHA will vet reports and ensure they’re legitimate. She fears that anonymity will allow people to make complaints against employees without being accountable for them. “If you’re going to make a complaint, I think you should stand for that complaint and own that complaint,” said Cape. She called on SHA to pull its request for proposals. Hours later, SHA agreed to do precisely that. “The Request for Proposals to provide a WhistleBlower Hotline service has been withdrawn to allow the Saskatchewan Health Authority to conduct further internal work on disclosure policies,” said a statement sent through SHA spokeswoman Lisa Thomson. Both SEIU-West and CUPE 5430 had sent out press releases to media warning the proposal could damage the member rights or their relations with management. “SEIU-West is also concerned the absence of information from the SHA leadership will create an atmosphere of mistrust for employees, managers and the public,” SEIU-West’s statement said. CUPE 5430 called the proposal a “waste of money and an insult to staff.” “Our union was blindsided. We only found out about this initiative through media reports. That is an unacceptable way to learn about new projects that could negatively impact our members’ rights,” Sandra Seitz, the local’s president, said in the statement. “Our membership deserves a say in large-scale initiatives such as a whistleblower hotline.” Both presidents pointed to existing complaint procedures that are available to the public, notably through professional associations and patient advocates. Seitz said the new line would simply duplicate existing processes. Cape added that employees already have internal channels to report issues through their collective agreements and occupational health and safety processes. The SHA acknowledged in its statement there are “currently mechanisms available to staff and public to raise concerns about the care received.” Cape called the proposal “fiscally imprudent.” She questioned why the SHA is seeking an external contractor to build the system. The SHA had previously told the Leader-Post there was no “guarantee” it would go with a third-party option. In an email statement, Thomson said at the time that the request for proposals was important to gather information to potentially support the policy. CUPE 5430 represents 14,000 Saskatchewan health care workers in Saskatchewan, while SEIU-West has about 13,000 members, many of whom are health care workers. Both had been negotiating for a new collective agreement with public sector health employers. A tentative agreement was reached in February. CUPE 5430 members voted to ratify the deal. SEIU-West members did not. awhite-crummey@postmedia.com

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