First formal meeting with Liberal health ministers “constructive”

HEU offers to work cooperatively to strengthen public Medicare

HEU met formally for the first time on August 14 with the four new Liberal cabinet ministers responsible for health care for discussions on key issues that union leaders describe as being “constructive.”

“Our goal was to lay the groundwork to build a constructive working relationship with the new Liberal government,” said HEU secretary-business manager. “As front-line care providers, HEU members are keen to come up with solutions to the challenges facing Medicare, and we offered to work cooperatively with the Liberals to strengthen the public system,” Allnutt said.

“But we also reinforced our role as an organization that will constructively criticize government when it pursues the wrong policies. It’s the same kind of relationship we had with the previous government,” Allnutt said.

Noting that it was important to build trust in the relationship between Victoria and health care unions, HEU president Fred Muzin said that the Liberal’s move to impose concession settlements on Registered Nurses and paramedicals was a mistake that would only cause instability for the system. “That move has put us on the wrong track,” Muzin warned the Liberal ministers, who included Minister of Health Services Colin Hansen; Minister of Health Planning Sindi Hawkins; Long-term and Home Care Minister Katherine Whittred, and Gulzar Cheema, who’s responsible for mental health issues.

Key issues that came up for discussion included the nursing shortage, patient lifts, the Liberal’s `core services review’ process, and HEU’s response to health employers’ demands for regressive legislative and regulatory changes in health care. And Allnutt and Muzin outlined ways for the two sides to open up channels of communications and consultation.

On the review of core services, Hansen acknowledged that HEU and other health care unions should be part of the process, in which all government services will come under scrutiny to determine “how we get better value from every dollar we spend,” the health services minister said.

And Hansen refused to rule out a possible move by his government to overturn legislation passed by the NDP to tear down the wall between community and facility health and support workers and combine them into one bargaining unit.

HEU will be arranging follow-up meetings with each minister on important issues linked to their portfolios.