B.C. Libs take aim at health care collective bargaining

Gordon Campbell’s plans mirror B.C. Business Summit agenda

The B.C. Liberals want to replace the current collective bargaining rights of health care workers with an alternate dispute mechanism.

That’s just one of the policies adopted by delegates to the April 16 - 18 BC Liberal convention held in Kelowna. For Liberal leader Gordon Campbell and his caucus, the convention was an opportunity to pitch their pre-election message to a friendly crowd.

And though mainstream media coverage of the convention has concentrated on Campbell’s plans for electoral and legislative reform, the opposition leader’s main message was in lock step with proposals released by the B.C. Business Summit late last year: balance the budget, engage in massive tax cuts and “remove the roadblocks to wealth creation” through changes to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Code.

But the Liberals were more vague on what government programs would be cut to pay for tax breaks and balanced budgets.

“Ontario’s Mike Harris promised to preserve health care and education while making massive tax cuts — a promise he couldn’t keep,” says HEU assistant secretary-business manager Zorica Bosancic.

“Gordon Campbell and his party must come clean on the numbers and tell us exactly how they’ll balance the budget and cut taxes without slashing health care services. “And our members would like to get the straight goods from the Liberals on how they plan to change B.C.’s labour laws.”

One policy adopted by convention delegates would put in place an alternate dispute mechanism to resolve labour disputes in health care.

“This is a very dangerous notion in our view,” says Bosancic. “Right now, our members have access to free collective bargaining while essential services orders protect public access to critical health services. If this policy removes our right to engage in job action, it’s an unacceptable attack on our members’ rights. “If that’s not the case,” adds Bosancic, “the opposition party needs to clarify the intention of the policy.”

The Liberals also adopted a policy measure to review health care delivery in B.C. with an eye to determining cost efficiency and whether services meet patient needs.

But the list of groups that would participate in the review doesn’t include health care workers.

“First and foremost, any review of health care delivery carried out in B.C. must be underpinned by a commitment to the core principles of medicare,” says Bosancic. “And any review of health care delivery will be inadequate if it does not include the views of those who work on health care’s front lines.”