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BC hospital employees including 45,000 from CUPEs BC health services division (HEU) have given their negotiators a 90 per cent strike mandate as the 11th week of contract talks begins.

HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt said the unions were prepared to meet around the clock to reach a settlement before the collective agreements covering 60,000 services and support workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, home support and community health agencies and health authorities expire on March 31.

“Front-line health care workers have sent a clear message to health employers and government with this strong strike vote result,” Allnutt said.

“Were absolutely determined to negotiate an agreement that makes health care work safer, improves the quality of care and deals with looming skills shortages through increased training and competitive salaries.”

The unions are also putting a top priority on ending wage discrimination against the 15,000 community caregivers who are paid about $3.50 an hour less than their hospital and long-term care counterparts for the same work.

“The time for fair pay is overdue for community caregivers who work with seniors, the mentally ill, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable people in our society,” says B.C. Government and Service Employees Union president George Heyman whose union represents 16,000 caregivers. “Achieving parity is fundamental to reaching a settlement.”

The unions say theyll make every effort to reach a negotiated settlement before considering other measures.