SEIU-West member leaders converged in front of the Saskatchewan Minister of Health's office yesterday to protest the government's support and funding for public services.

The union, representing over 2,500 southwest workers, held their biennial leadership conference in Swift Current yesterday and today and brought over 100 members to the rally on the zero block of Central Avenue North.

SEIU-West's planned protest was partially fuelled by the province's 2024-25 fiscal budget which included a record health care budget of $7.59 billion, an increase of 10.6 per cent. The union is mifted by how the province is boasting about funding, when their employees feel underfunded, understaffed, and undervalued.

"You look at the number of temporary jobs or part-time jobs that are posted by the Saskatchewan Healthcare Recruitment Agency and it's off the charts," SEIU-West President Barbara Cape said. "We cannot continue to operate a public health care system on a bare-bones staff. This used to be world-class health care in Saskatchewan and that was such a legacy we were so proud of."

Last week on Saskjobs the Saskatchewan Health Authority advertised 34 job openings in Swift Current, Maple Creek, Eastend, Shaunavon, Cabri, Climax, and Mankota. 

Cape said the province still has not met their promise to hire 300 more CCAs and that the target number according to her should be significantly higher. She also believes Saskatchewan needs to hire countless more RNs, LPNs, Lab techs, MRI techs, dietitians, and cooks to help the health care system function properly.

"(Now) you could work overtime every single day, every shift and that is not normal. Overtime tells us that we are not staffing properly to provide the level of care we need."

Swift Current was an easy choice for the leadership conference this year as it encouraged the union to leave Regina and Saskatoon to see more communities where its members work. The birth of Medicare in Swift Current was another factor in the location choice.

"I think it's important for us to talk about our roots as a public health care system but also use that to inform what we're looking at for the current state in health care and the future," she said. "Medicare was a ground-breaking idea at its time and it required significant investment, not only the buy-in of the government but the public to understand that this was what their taxes were funding and a service they could rely on."

Cape feels the province is trying to shift away from that health care approach by contracting out work from out-of-province for breast cancer services, hip and knee surgeries, and hiring agencies for nurses and continuing care assistants.

"Using a private for-profit company to provide a public good never ends well," she said. "It also results in those companies gouging the province of Saskatchewan for services that we can easily provide in-house."