AG report on healthy workplaces underlines failure of government health care agenda, says HEU

News release

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The Hospital Employees’ Union says a report by Auditor General Wayne Strelioff into workplace health in B.C.’s health care system is a stinging indictment of government policies that are costing taxpayers a billion dollars a year and contributing to poorer quality care.

In his report released today, Strelioff notes that neglect of workplace issues during restructuring and downsizing in health care is causing workplace stress — affecting both workers and patients — and contributing to a startling increase in mental health claims by staff.

“We agree with the auditor general that health authorities must pay more attention to workplace health issues and create respectful working relationships,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt.

“During the past three years, this government and their health authorities broke contracts, laid off thousands of workers, imposed massive wage cuts and taken other actions that signal to workers that they are an obstacle to — rather than a partner in — the delivery of quality health care.

“These attitudes need to change and we call on both the government and health authorities to heed the comments of the auditor general and deal with the chaos they’ve caused on health care’s front lines,” adds Allnutt.

In particular, Allnutt is urging the government and B.C.’s health authorities to:
  • renew funding for the Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare (OHSAH) — a joint union-management body that has implemented programs reducing workplace injuries, improving patient care and saving taxpayers more than $50 million. Government and health employers have refused to renew funding for the agency this year;
  • stop contracting out health care services — a policy that results in chaos and upheaval in hospitals and long-term care facilities and contributes to workers’ stress and anxiety over possible job loss. More than 9,000 workers will have lost their jobs to contracting out over this government’s term in office;
  • increase monitoring of private contractors including of their health and safety practices. Already, some private contractors have been cited by the Workers’ Compensation Board for failing to protect workers’ health and safety and contractors’ neglect of workers’ health and safety has been the subject of numerous press reports. Ironically, contracting out means that costs associated with poor health and safety practices by private contractors will no longer be reflected in health authority statistics making it even more difficult to monitor progress on providing healthier workplaces.

A December 2003 HEU poll of its members shows that one out of every three health care workers is actively looking for work outside of health care and that 60 per cent say staff morale has “worsened a lot” over the past year.

Thirty-four per cent of workers say that they end their workday “almost always” feeling mentally or physically stressed, an increase of 10 percentage points since the current provincial government took office.

-30- Contact: Mike Old, communications director, 604-828-6771 (cell)