Farnworth defends HEU members' work

Health minister speaks out on the critical role HEU members play in B.C.'s health care facilities

B.C.'s health minister Mike Farnworth delivered a spirited defense of the work performed by HEU members and the importance of pay equity during a televised interview with Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer April 19. Farnworth rejected a claim by a caller to the "Voice of the Province" TV show that non-nursing staff wages are close to those paid to nurses and should be cut back. "I would say it's a bit of a myth to say janitors and floor cleaners are making as much as nurses. They are not," said Farnworth. "...I don't think it's fair to say doctors and nurses should be well paid and everybody else shouldn't be. If (support staff) are not doing their job that impacts on the nurses ability to do their job." To illustrate his point, Farnworth pointed out that cleaners have a key role in maintaining a sterile health care environment in the face of evolving and deadly strains of drug resistant bacteria. The outcome of lower levels of cleaning staff, says Farnworth, is the necessity of "using extremely expensive drugs to combat infectious outbreaks that have occurred because a room wasn't cleaned properly." Farnworth also defended his governmentís efforts to fight gender-based wage discrimination in the public sector. "The issue around low wage redress - which is pay equity - is a very important one," said Farnworth. "You know it's something I'm proud of as a government because we were looking at people who are working in the community care sector, for example, earning $8 an hour." Farnworth says these workers are well-trained and provide important care that members of the community require and should be compensated accordingly. HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt says Farnworth's comments provide a welcome antidote to the misinformation being spread by the Business Council, Fraser Institute and the media about the wage levels of HEU members.