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Unions representing 46,000 front-line health care workers say they’ve achieved a tentative framework agreement with government that mitigates the impact of contracting out on union members and the public.

“In exchange for forgone wage and pay equity increases, longer hours of work and wage reductions, government has agreed to cap the number of positions that can be contracted out,” says Chris Allnutt, spokesperson for the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE). “At the same time, we’ve also gained access to better severance provisions and more bumping options for laid off workers.”

The tentative framework agreement – which was achieved through intense and difficult negotiations over the last two weeks – “is not our ideal outcome,” says Allnutt.

“But it is a practical solution that provides our members and the public with a measure of stability and certainty in the face of government policies that are causing chaos in health care.”

Allnutt says the framework extends the current agreement by two years to March 31, 2006. And he says that the cap on contracting out – set at 3,500 full time equivalents, or 5,000 jobs – is less than the government’s original target of 20,000 jobs.

The unions have agreed to recommend that their members vote to approve the terms of settlement in balloting that will be completed by mid-May. Both sides will be working in the coming days to finalize details about the agreement’s implementation.

Allnutt expects the tentative framework agreement will be controversial among health care workers. “After all, these workers already ratified a collective agreement with the expectation that government would respect it,” he says. “Instead, the BC Liberals shredded those contracts to pave the way for their reckless agenda of cuts, closures and privatization.

“And thousands of skilled, experienced health care workers – most of them women – who’ve made valuable contributions to our health care system - may still lose their jobs.”

With savings resulting from this agreement estimated at about $500 million over three years, Allnutt says health authorities would be wise to weigh these gains against the considerable risks of contracting out critical services that patients depend on.

Allnutt adds that health care unions’ legal efforts to have the government’s controversial contract breaking law, Bill 29, declared unconstitutional will continue. And he says this framework agreement forms part of the unions’ strategy to mitigate the impact of contracting out on health care workers while the case works its way through the courts.

The Facilities Sector Bargaining Association includes members of HEU, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 882, as well as a number of smaller unions. Workers affected provide a wide range of direct patient care and support services in hospitals and long-term care facilities in communities across the province.

For more information, visit heu.org.