The provincial government has announced that some 4,000 hospital workers across B.C. whose wages and benefits were diminished by privatization will be taken back in-house, including dietary and housekeeping workers at Ridge Meadows Hospital.
“It (privatization) significantly disadvantaged all the people doing the work, and put money in those company’s coffers,” said Al Bieksa. He represents 60 health care workers at Ridge Meadows Hospital, as president of the United Steelworkers Local 2009.
He expects the housekeeping workers in Maple Ridge to see their wages rise about $5 to $6 per hour, and their benefits to improve.
“When you take profit out of the system, you can afford to pay the working people more,” said Bieksa.
While the workers were again organized in unions, none of the unions were able to negotiate their wages back to where they had been, he said.
Bieksa believes the public should also see more consistent food and cleaning services at hospitals.
“This is long overdue. This is a big win for the health care workers affected, but also for B.C. citizens.”
The government also touted more consistent, safe and stable patient care, with these employees of support services that were previously contracted out being brought back to work directly for health authorities.
The former BC Liberal government privatized the delivery of these hospital services in 2002, and it resulted in thousands of health care workers losing their jobs. They were invited to reapply and reduced wages. According to the HEU, many of the workers were women, and from visible minorities. They still earn less than they did 18 years ago.
Beginning this fall, the province will serve notice under the terms of 21 commercial service contracts and start a phased approach to repatriating housekeeping and food-service contracts.
“Health-care workers rely on a committed and stable workforce to help them with their jobs, and this move also better protects support service workers in their positions,” said Premier John Horgan
“Previous government actions cut health-care wages, took away the jobs they relied on, and created a chain reaction of layoffs that saw women disproportionately affected – the largest such layoffs in Canada’s history. Nearly 20 years later, we are still living with the aftermath of those choices, with workers paid less to do the same work as their colleagues in the public system. It’s time to put a stop to it.”
This move started with Bill 47, the Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act, which was brought into force through regulation on July 1, 2019. Bill 47 repealed two existing pieces of legislation – the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act (Bill 29) and the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act (Bill 94), which facilitated contracting out in the health sector.
“Bill 47 was an important step in bringing basic fairness to public health care in our province,” said Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health. “The repatriation of housekeeping and food services contracts is good for patients, for workers, for the health-care team and for recruiting future health-care workers. It treats those who do the essential and life-saving work of keeping our hospitals and facilities clean and ensuring the nutrition of our patients with fairness and dignity.
“There is always more to do, but I am very proud of these decisions and the value they place on public health care.”
To address inequality and enhance working conditions for employees in health-care facilities, government is ensuring that workers have the benefits, wages and working conditions that they deserve to be able to help patients.
Government is currently working with the Hospital Employees’ Union, health authorities and contractors on a phased-in plan that allows employers to address this change in a way that strengthens and enhances the health system’s services.
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