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Hundreds of front-line health care workers were told today that they’d be replaced by a British corporation at flagship facilities serving the health needs of women, children and cancer patients.

The Provincial Health Services Authority informed workers at Children’s and Women’s Health Centre, Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children and the Vancouver site of the B.C. Cancer Agency that their effective date of lay-off will fall between September 19 and November 9. At least 238 regular employees and hundreds more casual workers -mostly women - are affected.

As a result, food services and hospital cleaning functions including the cleaning of operating rooms, special care nurseries and intensive care units will be taken over by two subsidiaries of British outsourcing giant, Compass Group.

Compass staff in other health care settings earn wages of about $9.50 an hour with few benefits. The laid off workers earn an average hourly wage of about $18.50.

Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt called the move “provocative and destabilizing.”

“Dismantling the health care team will put patients at risk and prove costly to taxpayers in the long-term,” says Allnutt. “These workers play a critical role in the provision of a safe and healthy environment for patients.

“This ill-considered privatization experiment puts critical infection control and nutrition functions in the hands of inexperienced and underpaid workers. That’s not a move that puts patients first.

“It also appears that government and health employers have chosen to throw the health care system into chaos at a time when the public, patients and health care workers are calling for cooperation and stability,” says Allnutt.

Earlier today, Allnutt urged government not to slam the door on further cooperation with health unions and to put privatization moves on hold until the fall as a sign that they’re prepared to build trust with those working on health care’s front lines.

Mike Old, communications officer, 604-828-6771 (cell)