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Ten thousand workers in the community social services sector in British Columbia are continuing their job action to end wage and benefit discrimination with a ban on overtime and a work-to-rule campaign. This follows a two-day strike, March 8 and 9.

On Thursday, March 18 workers rallied in front of the community offices of Minister Moe Sihota to underscore their demands.

The workers are members of CUPE, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the Hospital Employees’ Union (which is affiliated to CUPE) and the Health Sciences Association.

The BCGEU’s chief negotiator, Cliff Andstein, said the anger and frustration of community social services workers over the government’s refusal to close the wage and benefit gap were demonstrated by the huge turnout of members and supporters at rallies held around the province on March 8 and 9.

“The women and men who care for and work with the most vulnerable members of our society have sent a strong, clear message that it’s time for the government to send its negotiators back to the bargaining table with a mandate to end wage and benefit discrimination for workers in this sector,” Andstein said.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, over 1,000 community social service workers and supporters attended a noon-hour rally held in downtown Vancouver, and another 500 gathered at the B.C. legislature in Victoria. Other rallies were held March 9 in Prince George, Nanaimo, Kelowna and Nelson were attended by several hundred workers.

Barry O’Neill, President of CUPE B.C., urged the government to heed the workers’ call for renewed negotiations. “It’s time the government made good on its promises to community social services workers. Workers in this sector have been underpaid and undervalued for too long,” O’Neill said.

Marilynn Rust, who chairs the HEU community services bargaining committee, said community social services workers provide critical services to the families in communities around the province, and yet earn up to $8 an hour less than health care workers or government employees who do the same or similar work. “This dispute is about fairness and respect,” she said. “We’re determined to win a fair agreement”.

Community social services workers are employed in four sectors: community living, family and children’s services, services to women, and child care. They work with people who have physical or developmental disabilities in group homes, vocational programs, adult day care and child care centres. They provide occupational therapy, day programs, outreach, and help parents with disabilities look after their children. The broad sector includes transition house workers, counsellors, youth workers, speech therapists, special needs pre-school teachers, infant development consultants and addiction counsellors.

The BCGEU represents 6,500 workers in the sector; CUPE, 2,300; HEU, 850 and HSA, 800