Over 250 CUPE health care workers from across Canada met in Winnipeg to discuss and strategize on the pressing issues facing health care. Members represented the full range of work in health care – support and administrative workers, and workers who make up the patient care team in hospitals, residential care, public health centres, and home and community care.

Health care workers have a lot on their plate. Members discussed workplace violence and its close connection to the heavy workload we face and daily short staffing. Members shared their strategies for dealing with violence through new language in collective agreements and documentation of all instances of abuse and harassment.

CUPE health care workers spoke repeatedly about inadequate care levels related to low staffing and they discussed strategies and the need to bring in legislated care levels through provincial legislation.

Workload and staffing ultimately are linked to funding cuts to health care by provincial governments and the fact that increased monies transferred by the federal government under the health accord did not go to health services. A new Health Accord with a 6% escalator and a requirement that federal health care transfers be earmarked for health services, continues to be a priority and a campaign issue for CUPE.

Other burning issues in the health care sector included the legal attack on medicare by the Cambie Surgical Clinic and Brian Day in B.C., P3 health care facilities and continued expansion of private long-term care  beds as a share of all beds. In many provinces, privatization and contracting out of support and other services reduce the quality of health care and increase its cost.

Members heard how campaigns in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador were able to mobilize the grassroots members to fight for better care levels, and against P3 facilities and privatization.

CUPE is actively working with our allies, the Canadian Health Coalition and the BC Health Coalition,  to fight the Cambie Surgical Clinic court challenge, with Bloodwatch to fight paid plasma, and with the full range of pro-medicare groups to pressure the federal government to include sufficient and stable funding in its promised new Health Accord.

Members came away from three days of working and strategizing together with a commitment to continue to fight for adequate funding and staffing and a safe workplace. CUPE Health care workers agreed that we need to continue organizing all workers in health care, in all occupations and in both public and privatized operations. 

Participants of Health Care Sector Council agreed that we must organize all health care workers and bring them into the fold of unionized workers with a collective agreement and fair wages and benefits. Rather than being brought down to the working conditions of the for-profit and private facilities, we need to bring them up to our level.

Until we achieve that goal, Canadians will never get the high-quality public health care we need, and health care workers will never achieve the proper staffing and safe workplaces that allow high-quality care to flourish.