Labour Day: Let’s not forget the contributions of today’s seniors

Labour Day message from the
Hospital Employees’ Union

On Labour Day, we mark the contributions that working people have made towards building a more just and equitable society.

Attend Labour Day events in your community
Burnaby (B.C. Federation of Labour)
Check with your local Labour Council

Pensions, medicare, unemployment insurance and quality education for our kids are part of the legacy that our parents and grandparents established for us. Their desire to build a better society for future generations created a range of important social programs that would be accessible to all regardless of income.

Along with these, workers and their unions fought for fair, family-supporting wages and benefits, and working conditions that addressed issues like occupational health and safety and equality.

Today’s seniors were looking out for us. Now we need to look out for them.

The Hospital Employees’ Union has a tradition of caring for seniors, with efforts to improve standards in seniors’ care dating back to the 1970s. As the union organized workers in B.C. nursing homes, the critical link between poor working conditions for staff and substandard caring conditions for residents became clear.

Over the next 20 years, improvements were made for the seniors living in residential care facilities and for the health care workers who cared for and supported them.

But in the last nine years, things have changed dramatically.

The provincial government closed 2,400 long-term care beds – most of them in not-for-profit facilities – and passed legislation to enable privatization and contracting out in both direct care and support services.

Consequently, direct resident care provided by care aides, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, and support services like dietary, housekeeping and laundry have been contracted out in facilities across the province.

And since 2002, the number of private, for-profit seniors’ facilities in B.C. has virtually exploded.

Private operators increase profit margins by contracting out and keeping wages and staffing levels low, a practice that leads to high staff turnover and fractured continuity of care.

A comprehensive review of national and international research – prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Health’s Nursing Directorate – establishes a clear link between inadequate direct care staffing and higher rates of adverse outcomes for residents.

Yet contracting out in the sector continues.

The truth is the combination of the privatization of residential care, a contracted-out, low-wage workforce with high rates of turnover, and short staffing and heavy workloads are creating substandard caring conditions for seniors with more complex care needs living in many B.C. facilities today.

But we can turn this dangerous trend around, beginning with the construction of more public and not-for-profit beds. The laws that regulate residential care need to be strengthened and enforced. Operators must be held accountable for ensuring minimum staffing levels for direct care, activities and rehabilitation. And a stable, experienced and skilled workforce can be restored by putting an end to contracting out of direct care and support services.

We can work together – with advocates and community groups, decision-makers, family members and seniors themselves – to ensure that they have access to the quality, affordable health services they deserve.

And this Labour Day, as we enjoy the holiday with family and friends, let’s remember the hard-won accomplishments of our seniors, and honour these by ensuring that they continue – preserved and strengthened – for our children and grandchildren.

Judy Darcy
Secretary-Business Manager
HOSPITAL EMPLOYEES’ UNION