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Hospital, care-home workers to be employed by health authorities again

The province plans to bring thousands of hospital and care-home health workers employed by private contractors, providing mostly housekeeping and food services, back under the direct employ of public health authorities over the next year.
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Health Minister Adrian Dix says the change addresses "decades of injustice" for health-care workers. GOVERNMENT OF B.C.

The province plans to bring thousands of hospital and care-home health workers employed by private contractors, providing mostly housekeeping and food services, back under the direct employ of public health authorities over the next year.

It’s the beginning of the final chapter of the NDP government’s efforts to reverse the former B.C. Liberal government’s privatization of housekeeping and food services, which saw contracts torn up and thousands of workers laid off and rehired for lower pay, starting in 2002.

The Ministry of Health said it has been provided up to $84 million over the coming fiscal years for an orderly and safe transfer.

“This has been decades of injustice that health-care workers have gone through, decades of not being treated fairly, not being given benefits,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday, calling the change one of the most significant in his public life.

The transition will be phased in over the next year, but is expected to be largely completed by March 2022, said Dix.

The change will improve wages, working conditions, job security and stability for about 4,000 workers — 2,900 full-time equivalents — provincewide, he said, adding it will also help with recruitment and retention of workers.

This fall, the province will work with Island Health and the Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents the workers, on the transition. When it’s complete, workers will be health authority employees and part of the main Facilities Collective Agreement that they were contracted out of almost two decades ago, said the HEU.

In Island Health, the change will affect 190 “mixed services” jobs under MHC/Compass, 152 in patient food services under Morrison Health Care, 230 housekeeping jobs under Compass Group Canada, and another 115 housekeeping jobs under ACCIONA. The workers are in hospitals and some extended care facilities run by health authorities, such as Saanich Peninsula long-term care.

The changes Monday come on the heels of legislation introduced in 2018 — the Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act — and enacted in 2019 that repealed Bill 29 and Bill 94, which had allowed contracting out in the health services sector. The legislature voted unanimously to repeal both bills.

The 2002 Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act, known as Bill 29, and the 2003 Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act, known as Bill 94, introduced under then- premier Gordon Campbell, resulted in about 10,000 health-care workers, mostly women, being laid off and rehired for less pay. The result was that residents of care homes were sometimes subjected to a revolving door of new workers, or workers who returned for less pay and fewer if any benefits, the government said.

Yet the same workers have shown up in a time of pandemic to clean hospitals and ensure patients are fed, Dix said.

“They did extraordinary work and today’s effort respects that work,” he said.

Catalina Samson, a dietary aide at Vancouver General Hospital, said Monday that before Bills 29 and 94, she earned $18.10 an hour with benefits and pension.

After the legislation came into effect, she said, she was paid $10.15 an hour with no benefits, sick time or vacation. “My life was thrown into chaos. I had to give up on a lot of my goals,” said Samson.

Today, she still makes less than she did then, said Samson, noting the job is much harder now and younger people won’t do it.

Meena Brisard, HEU secretary-business manager, said the change announced Monday will be “life-changing for thousands of housekeeping and dietary workers in our hospitals and extended care facilities.”

Privatization has been devastating for health care and for workers, who still earn less than they did 20 years ago, said Brisard.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions in Bill 29 interfered with the right to bargain collectively and violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 2008, some provisions in both Bills 29 and 94 were repealed.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com