Campbell’s contract rollback threats a shocking betrayal of trust

Flexibility’ sought by government is code for contracting-out, privatizing health services

In the lead up to last spring’s provincial election, Premier Gordon Campbell said he didn’t believe in tearing up signed contracts, and that health care workers didn’t have anything to worry about in terms of privatization from a Campbell government.

But now, in a stunning about face, the Campbell government said Dec. 4 that it’s considering introducing legislation in the spring that would roll back collective agreement provisions for more than 100,000 B.C. health care workers.

“We’re deeply disturbed by the provocative comments made by the Premier and his health minister,” says HEU assistant secretary-business manager Zorica Bosancic. “Given Campbell’s commitments before the election, it amounts to a shocking betrayal of trust. He campaigned on bringing honesty and integrity to government. Yet he’s lied to all health care workers. Has he no shame?”

Bosancic says the move confirms the union’s fears that Victoria is preparing to wield a big axe to cut services, contract-out and privatize. She expects HEU members will respond angrily, and mobilize to protect their contracts, their jobs and the important health care services they provide British Columbians.

“It’s a fundamental principle for the labour movement,” says Bosancic, “that `a deal is a deal.’ But if Campbell and his government cross the line, our members will respond accordingly. We’re not going to be bullied.”

Campbell and health minister Colin Hansen finally acknowledged that B.C.’s health care system faces cuts of a least $700 million next year because of the Liberal’s three-year funding freeze. They claimed that collective agreements were a barrier for government to implement cost saving measures. And Hansen again targeted HEU members who provide important support services as being overpaid.

But Bosancic says it’s not collective agreements that are the problem, but the government’s failed assumption that tax cuts pay for themselves. “We’re facing a crisis in our health care system caused by reckless tax cuts implemented by Campbell that benefited the wealthy and corporations and the so-called flexibility that government wants is code for contracting-out and privatizing services,” she says.

Meanwhile, in a letter Bosancic sent to Campbell Dec. 4, the HEU leader conveyed the union’s concerns that the confrontational approach the government appears set to take would be harmful to the health care system, and she urged Campbell to meet with health care unions to seek real solutions to problems facing Medicare.

“What our health care system urgently needs is some stability, and a commitment from government, employers, care providers and their unions to work together to develop progressive solutions that will modernize Medicare,” wrote Bosancic.

“We have a wealth of ideas about how to improve health service delivery to deal with the pressures facing our public health care system. We think cooperation is the solution—not the kind of confrontational approach your minister is prepared to embark on in terms of legislating away provisions of signed collective agreements and widespread privatization of health care services.”

HE LIED Read about some of the commitments Premir Campbell made to health care workers before the election.

Highlights from the Campbell Interview, November, 2000

GUARDIAN: Monitoring the pulse of HEU members, their sense of a Gordon Campbell government would be the privatization of health care services and their jobs

CAMPBELL: I don’t think they have to worry about it. Their sense should be that Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals recognize the importance of HEU workers to the public health care system. They are frontline workers who are necessary. You can’t talk to anyone in the health care system who doesn’t recognize that and I want HEU workers, like other workers in the public health care system or in the public service to recognize their value and we will value them.

GUARDIAN: A 48-year old housekeeper, who has finally, after decades of struggle, come up to the average wage in B.C. Does she have anything to worry about in terms of privatization from a Gordon Campbell government?

CAMPBELL: I say no. What she’s going to find is that people in British Columbia and the government are recognizing the value of the work she does. More importantly, she’s going to find the quality of work she’s able to do is more rewarding and fulfilling.

GUARDIAN: One of the things that’s novel about health reform in B.C. has been the Employment Security Agreement, or the Health Labour Accord. In the past you have said you would rip it up. What’s your position today?

CAMPBELL: First of all, I don’t believe in ripping up agreements. I wasn’t happy with the Health Labour Accord and I said that quite clearly in 1995. Having said that, I think the question today is how you maintain the quality and the talent of the people who are in this system. I have never said I would tear up agreements. I said I disagreed with the HLA and I did. That’s just the way it was. I am not tearing up any agreements.

GUARDIAN: So there will be no legislative initiatives to remove it from the Collective Agreement?

CAMPBELL: I don’t plan on it, no.