Contract talks for 60,000 health workers begin Dec. 19

News release

Fair wage increase, parity for community caregivers, measures to modernize Medicare on unions’ priority list

Contract talks for more than 60,000 health care workers from hospitals, long-term care facilities and community health services get underway in Vancouver today when union leaders and representatives of the Health Employers Association of B.C. meet to outline key bargaining themes and establish a general framework to guide negotiations.

Then early in the New Year, the two sides will roll up their sleeves to complete a new deal for the 60,000 caregivers — most of whom are women — who provide health services in communities right across B.C. before the March 31, 2001 contract expires. Ten bargaining dates are set between Jan. 10 and Feb. 1. After close to five years of government wage controls, Hospital Employees’ Union spokesperson Chris Allnutt says wages will be an issue in the talks. “Clearly, a settlement must include a fair pay boost for all health care workers,” he says. “But it won’t be the only issue. As talks unfold, we’ll be tabling a number of important bargaining demands that are designed to modernize Medicare and improve the quality of health care services for British Columbians.”

Another top union priority, says George Heyman, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, is to achieve parity and eliminate the significant wage and benefit difference between health care workers who provide community-based services and their counterparts in hospitals and long-term care facilities. For example, a Community Care Aide who provides home support services for the elderly and disabled earns more than $3 an hour less than her counterpart who cares for seniors in a long-term care facility.

“In past rounds of bargaining,” says Heyman, “government and employers have accepted the concept of parity for community caregivers and implemented some measures to eliminate the wage and benefit gap. But in this round of talks we must establish a clear time frame to achieve it and put an end to the lower wages and benefit levels in community health services.”

Caregivers covered by the talks include more than 18,000 Licenced Practical Nurses, Care Aides, nursing assistants and paramedical technical positions who provide bedside care in health facilities, along with more than 8,000 Community Care Aides who provide vital home support services for seniors and the disabled in the community.

Also covered in the talks are a variety of important clerical staff involved in admitting, OR booking and scheduling; food services workers; residential care attendants in mental health group homes; housekeeping staff; trades and maintenance; and other community caregivers who work directly for regional health authorities and in drug and alcohol services and special programs for women and children.

With 45,000 members covered by the talks, HEU is the largest union involved in the negotiations. The BCGEU with 10,000 members, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, with 3,500 members, are the other main unions.