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Health care workers have voted 57 per cent against ratifying an agreement reached one month ago with health employers and the provincial government that would have traded significant concessions in exchange for limits on the impact of health care privatization on workers.

“This was a difficult decision for many of our members to make and I respect their decision,” says Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “At the outset I predicted that the tentative agreement would be controversial within our membership, and it has been.

“In voting against the tentative framework agreement, I believe that health care workers haven’t rejected efforts to find alternatives to health privatization but they certainly have rejected this framework agreement,” says Allnutt, who is also the spokesperson for the ten-union bargaining association that represents 46,000 health and support workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities in B.C.

“To that end, I am urging health authorities to exercise restraint and to keep options open so that we can continue to pursue alternatives,” adds Allnutt. “The recent brush with SARS in B.C. demonstrates that it’s not in the public interest to break up the infection control team by privatizing critical services such as cleaning, security, laundry and food services.”

Allnutt says common themes emerged during the vote that shed light on the outcome.

“The trust factor loomed large. Many of our members believed that a government that ripped up one contract would not hesitate to shred another,” says Allnutt. “For others, the tentative agreement was too lopsided - they felt it involved too many concessions while up to 5,000 workers could still lose their jobs.

“There were also those who believed they would be unaffected by the government’s privatization plans.”

Allnutt says HEU’s provincial executive will meet next week to review the vote results and the ten-union bargaining association will also meet. Their first order of business will be to engage union members in a discussion about the next steps in the fight to protect jobs and public health care.

Allnutt acknowledges that there would be difficult and stressful times ahead for union members. “But we’re also united in a common cause - defending our rights and the services we deliver to the public. The strength of that commitment will take us through these difficult times.”

The tentative framework agreement would have seen $500 million worth of savings for government over three years through forgone wage and pay equity increases, longer hours of work and wage reductions. In exchange, government would have capped the number of positions that could have been contracted out and provided better severance provisions and more bumping options for laid off workers.

Go to http://www.heu.org/one_month_ago.doc to download a copy of Chris Allnutt’s speakers notes from the May 16 press conference.

Contact: Stephen Howard, communications director, 604-240-8524 (cell)