Legislative sledgehammer won’t fix health care

B.C.’s new Liberal government has targeted the collective bargaining rights of health care workers in a move that HEU says is a provocative and heavy-handed intervention on the side of health employers that will do nothing to improve health care.

Bill 2, The Health Care Services Continuation Act, bans job action by members of the Nurses’ and Paramedical Professional bargaining associations for a period of up to 60 days and directs the affected unions to restart talks with health employers within three days.

The legislation was introduced in a hastily called session of the new legislature Tuesday evening and was voted into law by the overwhelming Liberal majority in the early hours of Wednesday morning over the objections of the tiny NDP opposition.

“It’s regrettable that this government has chosen as its first legislative act to undermine the rights of health care workers to engage in free collective bargaining,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt.

“Union members should be very concerned that the first reaction of government to a labour dispute is order an end to job action,” adds Allnutt. “It has removed any incentive for public sector employers to engage in serious bargaining.

“Instead, the provincial government should be sending the Health Employers Association of B.C. back to the bargaining tables with a mandate to bargain fair settlements. With fairly negotiated deals in place, health care workers and their unions, employers and government can get down to the important task of strengthening health care services for all British Columbians.”

HEU members joined a mass rally at the B.C. legislature Tuesday as MLAs met to pass Bill 2. And Allnutt says HEU stands ready to join the B.C. Federation of Labour and the other health care unions in a campaign to oppose the legislation. The B.C. Nurses’ Union says it will support its members who refuse over-time requests while the Health Sciences Association — the largest union in the paramedical professional bargaining association — is continuing to work to essential services levels Wednesday morning. HEU paramedical professionals are also working to essential services levels.