Community social service workers launch legal challenge against Campbell government

News release

Joint release of Community Social Services sector unions, HEU, BCGEU, CUPE and HSA

Four unions representing almost 200,000 workers today launched another legal action against the Campbell government. In a writ filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the unions are seeking damages and costs on behalf of thousands of community social service workers whose legal contracts were ripped up by the government.

The action by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Hospital Employees' Union (CUPE), and the Health Sciences Association contends that Campbell's contract-breaking legislation, Bill 29, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is unconstitutional.

Links to the supporting documentation for the court challenge are at the bottom of this release. At a news conference in Vancouver this afternoon, leaders from the four unions said they are asking the court to strike down the legislation and restore their members' freely negotiated contracts.

"Campbell broke his promise," said George Heyman, president of the BCGEU. "He said he would not tear up any contracts. In fact, he has ripped up collective agreements and threatened the jobs of thousands of women and men who care for vulnerable people in their communities.

We're confident the courts will decide that this uncaring government cannot tear up contracts with impunity."

"We are asking the court to restore our members' freely negotiated, legal contracts, and to assess damages against the Campbell government to cover all financial and other costs to our members," said Heyman.

"Under Bill 29, workers with years of experience will lose the key provisions they negotiated to end an 11-week strike in 1999," said Barry O'Neill, president of the B.C. division of CUPE.

"The Campbell government is taking away our members' employment security. Workers will lose seniority if they are transferred to another employer. They will lose job training opportunities. And these underpaid workers will lose the contractual agreement that they should have wage equity, by April 2004, with community health workers who do similar work. The families of thousands of women workers will suffer because Campbell cares more about profits than he does about the individuals who are hurt by his actions," said O'Neill.

"Our members care for some of the most vulnerable people in society," said Cindy Stewart, president of the HSA. "They help thousands of men, women and children to live their lives with dignity and maximum independence, close to home in their own communities. These services include community living for people with mental and developmental challenges, group homes for children with severe physical or mental disabilities, counselling to families in crisis, transition houses and women's shelters."

"With Bill 29, the government is disrupting relationships of trust, care and friendship built up over many years between caregivers and their clients. The legislation allows the Campbell government to shift services to the lowest bidder, with no regards for the impact on workers or clients. And they will ultimately pay the price," said Stewart.

Fred Muzin, president of the HEU, said Bill 29 paves the way for service cuts, privatization, deterioration of service and inferior care.

"Campbell is making it easier to eliminate services that people need," said Muzin. "The government has already announced reductions in funding to Women's Centres. If a service isn't eliminated outright, it can be transferred to the lowest bidder, without respecting negotiated contract provisions.

"Bill 29 is part of Victoria's plan to auction off public services to private corporations that will make huge profits by cutting workers' wages and service quality. We've already seen this take place in the hospital sector, with companies like Sodexho. We're challenging Bill 29 because it eliminates public accountability and will transform community social services into a low-wage ghetto, with high turnover rates, and less skilled caregivers for clients," he said.

"Private corporations should look twice before they jump in," warned Muzin. "If the court decides as we expect it will, they could be responsible for a large share of the cost of reimbursing the workers who have lost their jobs or part of their pay."

Follow the links below to supporting documents in the media kit for the May 28 legal challenge. These documents are in .pdf format and require Adobe Acrobat reader which may be downloaded free from Adobe.com

The legal case against Bill 29

Bill 29: Gordon Campbell's attack on freely negotiated contracts

Community social services bargaining: structure and history

The vital role of community social services workers

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Contacts: Soren Bech, BCGEU, 604 291-9611                 Beth Smillie, CUPE, 604 291-1940                 Miriam Sobrino, HSA, 604 439-0994                 Stephen Howard, HEU, 604 438-5000