Tentative settlement for 15,000 community caregivers ends wage discrimination

News release

But unions respond to attack on pay equity for 46,000 hospital and long-term care workers by issuing strike notice

Unions representing health services and support workers reached a tentative agreement early this morning with health employers on a new collective agreement that ends wage discrimination against 15,000 community-based health care workers.

But health employers made no movement yesterday on outstanding issues affecting 46,000 facilities (hospital and long-term care) workers covered by a separate contract. As a result, the unions have served 72-hour strike notice this morning and will take measured but expanding job action in this sector of health care beginning Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Because of this morning’s tentative settlement, community health services are not affected.

“After many years of struggle, community caregivers have finally won recognition for the valuable role they play in our health care system by helping the elderly and the disabled live independently,” says George Heyman, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union which represents 7,500 community health workers. “This tentative agreement recognizes that there is a continuum of care and that community caregivers deserve equal pay for equal work.

“Achieving parity for community caregivers would not have been possible without the solidarity of hospital and long-term care workers over many years,” adds Heyman. “It’s time now for health employers to show the same constructive approach in the negotiations covering facilities-based health care workers.”

Talks for a new facilities contract have bogged down over health employers’ position that ongoing pay equity adjustments should be rolled into a general wage increase.

“It’s unacceptable that health employers would discount the wages of women health care workers by the amount they receive from their long-standing pay equity plan,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt who represents 43,000 members affected by today’s strike notice. “A fair wage increase for health care workers won’t come at the cost of our pay equity plan."

“And I find it difficult to understand how health employers can take this position given the provincial government’s recent decision to push forward with pay equity legislation,” adds Allnutt.

He says the unions had little choice but to issue strike notice after 12 weeks of intense negotiations at the bargaining table failed to resolve outstanding wage and equity issues. But he says union bargainers stand ready to return to the table at any time and will negotiate around-the-clock to reach an agreement by Sunday.

During any job action, union members will continue to provide essential services in health care facilities as set down in interim orders of the Labour Relations Board.

In addition, the unions are committed to limiting the impact of any planned job action on direct patient care and will provide employers with an additional 72-hours notice when patient care may be affected. By doing so, they hope to prevent some health employers from taking provocative and unnecessary measures like cancelling surgeries.

Allnutt says the two sides have reached agreement on most issues including measures that increase long-term care staffing, improve training and make workplaces safer.

“These are important gains that will strengthen health care for all British Columbians,” says Allnutt. “But our health care system is weakened by employer attempts to subsidize a wage increase with our hard-won pay equity plan.”

Highlights of the tentative community agreement include a plan for closing the wage gap between community and facilities (long-term care and hospital) workers by dedicating resources equal to three per cent of the community payroll annually to wage adjustments for as long as it takes to close the gap. The unions estimate that gap to be 25 per cent.

“I think the 3,700 community Care Aides I represent will be very pleased with this tentative contract,” says Teresa Cairns, director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518 health sector. She says her members currently earn about $3.50 an hour less than their counterparts in long-term care facilities.

The three year tentative community agreement expires March 31, 2004 and includes annual wage increases of two per cent in year one, two per cent in year two and a cost of living increase in year three.