EDMONTON -- United Nurses of Alberta has filed multiple grievances with the province over Alberta Health Services hiring external RNs as contact tracers instead of those within AHS.

The union says it is not taking issue with AHS hiring non-registered nurses as contact screeners, but with AHS hiring external candidates rather than internal candidates.

"I understand where they're coming from in wanting to protect their staffing on the units, but I don't think that's what's going to happen," said Danielle Larivee, from UNA.

"The reasons behind why these nurses are applying for these positions don't go away just because AHS says, 'No, you can't have it.' I'm deeply concerned this will actually lead to a loss of nurses."

UNA says if AHS is concerned about staffing, it should work with nurses to ensure they feel safe and supported at work rather than shut them out of positions.

"It's not OK that AHS is disregarding these applications purely because they're AHS employees," said Larivee.

"Due to the unprecedented demand on our healthcare system, AHS is considering all avenues for our recruitment efforts, especially related to our contact tracer roles," read a statement from AHS to CTV News.

"We continue to consider both internal and external candidates for high-demand roles."

AHS says the complaints from the union are being addressed through the dispute resolution process in the collective agreement with UNA.

The lack of contact tracing has led to a backlog with tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases not being traced in recent weeks.

There are currently 900 contact tracers; the province's goal is to hire 900 more by the end of December.

United Nurses of Alberta is the union for more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and allied health workers.