Health care workers mark pay equity milestone

News release

More than 40,000 health care workers receive back pay today covering four years of overdue pay equity adjustments

It’s a red letter day for more than 40,000 front-line health care workers in B.C.’s hospitals and long-term care facilities who are receiving significant retroactive pay equity adjustments after a four-year wait.

The payments result from a major pay equity settlement that addresses in part historic gender-based wage discrimination in a sector that’s dominated by women workers.

“Today marks a milestone on the decades-long road to achieving gender-neutral pay rates in health care,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “And this settlement delivers a measure of justice to tens of thousands of women whose contribution to our health care system has been undervalued for far too long.”

The award applies to a range of front-line health care workers including licensed practical nurses, care aides, clerical workers, medical transcriptionists, lab assistants and staff providing laundry, food and housekeeping services.

For individual health care workers, today’s retroactive payments range from about $400 to more than $9,600 before the usual statutory deductions. They cover a four-year period from April, 1996 until earlier this year when long overdue pay equity adjustments were finally implemented.

This award fulfills one element of the pay equity language that’s been part of HEU’s collective agreements with hospital and long-term care employers since 1992. The language calls for a comparison of the wages and benefits of HEU members as compared to those of workers in the direct public service.

After several years of hearings, independent arbitrator Stephen Kelleher determined that the cost of achieving this element of pay equity was $25.8 million in 1996 plus improvements to maternity and parental leave benefits.

Today’s retroactive payments represent the compounded cost of delivering this award to about 40,000 health care workers four years after it was due.

As a general rule, health employers and the union have weighted the distribution of the pay equity award towards those job classifications that experience the greatest gap between their current pay rate and their previously agreed to target pay equity rate.

But even with today’s settlement, many health care workers are still years away from meeting those targets.

“This province needs comprehensive pay equity legislation so that gender-based wage discrimination can be addressed right across the public sector in a systematic way,” says Allnutt. “But in the absence of such legislation, we’ll continue to fight to close the wage gap at the bargaining table.”

And while the award is very good news for many HEU members, Allnutt says that health employers are unilaterally excluding more than a thousand health care workers from about 30 long-term care facilities from the settlement even though they are covered by the same collective agreement as other workers.

“This move by health employers establishes a two-tier wage system in our health care system,” says Allnutt. “British Columbians need to know that front-line health care workers in their community are as valued as those in any other part of the province.”

Pay Equity Fact Sheet

  • Arbitrator Stephen Kelleher’s Sept. 21/99 award applies to about 40,000 front-line health care workers in B.C. hospitals and long-term care facilities
  • Comparability, the element of pay equity covered in the award, has been part of HEU’s collective agreements with health employers since 1992.
  • Kelleher’s award includes three per cent of payroll ($25.8 million) effective April 1, 1996 plus improvements to maternity and parental leave benefits. Interest is also due on retroactive amounts.
  • Base wage rate adjustments are weighted towards those job classifications with the largest remaining pay equity wage gaps. Pay equity targets were established in 1993 after interviews were conducted with a representative sample of more than 3,000 health care workers. Target rates are based on a job comparison using ten factors including education, physical and mental demands, training and experience and responsibility.
  • In addition to comparability, the collective agreement currently in force for general and support workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities includes annual pay equity adjustments valued at one per cent of payroll.
  • Assuming these annual adjustments continue to be made at the current rate of one per cent of payroll a year, Kelleher’s award will shave about three years off the wait for pay equity (from ten years to seven years on average.)
  • For example, prior to Kelleher’s decision, the wage rate for care aides was 14 per cent below their pay equity target rate, which would have taken 14 years to reach. Kelleher’s decision reduces that gap to 11 per cent and the wait to 11 years. There are about 10,000 care aides working mostly with seniors in long-term care facilities throughout B.C.
  • Other examples: the remaining wage gap for switchboard operators will be seven per cent; cooks — four per cent; licensed practical nurses — 12 per cent; medical stenographer — five per cent.
  • Individual health care workers saw monthly adjustments in their pay scale of up to $160 on May 1, 2000. Retroactive one time payments to cover the effective date of April 1, 1996 to April 30, 2000 range from $440 to $9,600 and will be paid by Sept. 8, 2000.
  • HEU members are employed in a number of different occupations including: care aides, activity aides, licensed practical nurses, lab technicians, housekeeping and laundry, trades and maintenance, clerical including medical records and transcription, dietary services, biomedical technology, stores and others.
  • The HEU is the largest union of health care workers in B.C. with 46,000 members. It’s also B.C.’s largest union of women — 87 per cent of the membership is female. The union was founded in 1944. HEU is the B.C. Health Services division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
  • Pay Equity Settlement History

    In a sector dominated by women, wage and benefit justice has always been an issue for health care workers. Pay equity and the related issue of comparability with workers in the public service has been a formal part of HEU’s bargaining agenda for decades.

    1970s Close to 80 per cent of HEU members made less than the average wage in the province. Within this discriminatory pay structure in health care, female-dominated positions were paid significantly less than equivalent male-dominated jobs.

    The union filed hundreds of human rights complaints over the issue of wage discrimination.

    1978 In a third party contract settlement, arbitrator Allan Hope mandated HEU and health employers to come up with a way to obtain comparability with public service workers but Hope was unable to award the necessary wage increases because of Trudeau’s wage restraint policies.

    1980’s Various arbitrations result in the development of a more comprehensive system of classifying jobs, establishing job requirements and standardizing pay rates to facilitate direct publc service comparisons.

    1992 Job action resulted in a solid pay equity win in collective bargaining that included comparability with the direct public service as a key element.

    1994 On October 1, all HEU facilities sector members received an interim adjustment of 3.7 per cent to base wage rates in the first phase of comparability adjustments.

    Apr. 1/96 Effective date of comparability as an element of pay equity.

    1997 - 1999 The implementation of comparability subject of several arbitrations and labour board hearings.

    Sept. 21/99 Independent arbitrator Stephen Kelleher makes an award that he characterizes as “the final chapter of an extended dispute between the Health Employers’ Association of BC and the HEU over the implementation of comparability.”

    Oct. 6/99 HEABC appeals the award to the Labour Relations Board.

    Feb. 28/00 LRB asks Kelleher to clarify costing of award.

    Mar. 14/00 Kelleher confirms award.

    Mar. 28/00 Both sides agree not to appeal Kelleher’s Mar. 14 ruling.

    May 1/00 Wage adjustments and improved maternity and parental leave benefits flowing from pay equity award are implemented.

    Sept. 8/00 Retroactive pay equity payments covering the period April 1, 1996 to April 30, 2000 delivered to about 40,000 front-line health care workers.