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Legislation introduced Friday by the government of British Columbia is a prelude to mass privatization of public health care, says the Hospital Employees’ Union, CUPE’s BC health services division.

Bill 29, ironically named the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act, is a prescription for privatizing services, stripping health care workers of their collective bargaining rights and removing barriers to shutting down health services.

The wide-ranging attack on legally negotiated contracts includes a provision that prevents health care unions or workers from suing the government for damages.

Bill 29 also includes provisions that would:

- end employment security and dismantle the Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency;

- gut bumping provisions first bargained in 1966. This means if you have less than five years seniority, you’d be bumped into the job of the most junior person with comparable hours. If you’ve more than five years seniority, you can only bump those with less than five years seniority. For example, if you have 25 years seniority and all the jobs you’re qualified to do are filled by those with more than five years, you have no bumping rights. Period.;

- contracting-out language – first bargained in 1982 – has been taken away from all non-clinical staff (those not covered by the Health Professions Act – most HEU members). There will be no consultation and no successorship protection available under the Labour Code if you’re work is sold off to the private sector. But so-called clinical staff – such as LPNs – are also at risk because all contract provisions that restrict lay-offs are gone;

- the “wall” between community and facility health services is back up – and the government has given itself the power to direct the labour board to strip some workers of their right to be represented by the union of their choice; and

- community social services workers will lose many of the gains they made after an 11-week strike two years ago including access to HBT extended health benefits, employment security and successorship protection. And new certifications wouldn’t be automatically covered by the standard collective agreement.

“This is an outrageous attack on health care and on the principle of free collective bargaining,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “The premier and his government have shown us what their pre-election commitments to protect health care and respect contracts are really worth – absolutely nothing.”

“The Campbell Liberals say they’re just taking care of side deals made with the NDP. But the truth of the matter is that this government is stripping workers of rights that have been bargained over several decades.

HEU members are angry about the direction in which this government is taking health care and community social services,” says Allnutt. “But our members are also committed to fighting back against Victoria’s move to dismantle medicare and sell it off one piece at a time.”

Allnutt says that at a time when our health care system needs stability more than ever, the government has chosen a path that will lead to chaos.

Bill 29 was given first reading Friday. You can follow the debate by surfing to http://www.legis.gov.bc.ca/hansard/debates.htm

You can read Bill 29 and accompanying regulations at http://www.legis.gov.bc.ca/37th2nd/1st_read/index.htm#by_number