Public convinced (64 per cent) Campbell Liberals’ health privatization agenda means lower quality care, more risk to patients

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And 2 out of 3 believe high demand health occupations should be exempt from legislated wage cuts to avoid recruitment and retention crisis

Nearly two months after this spring’s health care job action, British Columbians are questioning government policies that led to the dispute, according to a new Mustel Group poll commissioned by the Hospital Employees’ Union.

On the question of contracting out of health services, 64 per cent of those polled believe that government policies that could result in the layoff of 9,000 health care workers by next year will result in poorer quality care and put patient care at risk.

Only 25 per cent believe that contracting out will improve health care by diverting more resources to patient care — the argument used by government to justify their privatization policy.

“This government’s attempt to devalue the contribution of nursing, cleaning, dietary and laundry staff to patient care has failed to impress the public,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt.

“And though our union was able to negotiate a cap on contracting out for the next two years, I hope public anxiety about their policies gives the Campbell Liberals reason to rethink health privatization altogether.”

The mid-June poll also raises questions about the impact of government-imposed wage rollbacks on the ability of B.C. hospitals to recruit and retain workers in high demand roles like licensed practical nurses, trades workers and technicians.

The Campbell Liberals’ Bill 37 — passed April 28 — included across-the-board wage rollbacks of 15 per cent. Since then, HEU has asked both government and health employers to exempt workers in high demand occupations from the wage cuts to head off a looming retention crisis.

The public also agrees with this approach by a margin of 64 per cent while 24 per cent believe that the rollbacks should continue to apply to all occupations. Health employers have refused to budge on the issue and the union has referred the matter to an arbitrator.

“Bill 37 was not just mean spirited and arbitrary — it’s impractical,” says Allnutt. “And we’ll continue to press government and health employers to deal with the mess they’ve made on health care’s front lines.”

The two polling questions were contained in a Mustel Group Omnibus telephone survey of 501 adult British Columbians conducted June 10 —17 and the results are considered accurate to within 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Here are the questions:

By this time next year, the B.C. Liberal government will have laid off more than 9,000 health care workers and contracted out their work to private companies paying low wages. Do you believe that: # % This policy will result in poorer quality care and put patient care at risk 321 64 This government policy will improve health care services by diverting more resources to patients 124 25 Don’t know 56 11 The B.C. government recently imposed 15 per cent wage rollbacks on 43,000 health care workers.

The Hospital Employees’ Union says government should exempt workers in high demand — like licensed practical nurses, technicians and trades workers — from the wage cuts in order to avoid a retention and recruitment crisis.

Government and health employers says the 15 per cent wage rollbacks will apply to workers in high demand — like licensed practical nurses, technicians and trades workers. Do you believe that: # % Workers in high demand like licensed practical nurses, technicians and trades workers should be exempt from the 15 per cent wage rollbacks 320 64 The 15 per cent wage rollbacks should apply to workers in high demand like licensed practical nurses, technicians and trades workers 118 24 Don’t know 63 13

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

Detailed tables available upon request.