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60 per cent say Bill 29 should be repealed while 55 per cent oppose privatization of support services – poll

In the year that passed since the Gordon Campbell Liberals passed legislation tearing up health care collective agreements, a new poll shows that public opinion remains solidly opposed to the move.

The McIntrye and Mustel survey commissioned by the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) shows that 60 per cent of British Columbians believe that the contract-breaking legislation should be repealed, up from 55 per cent in February, 2002. And two-thirds of British Columbians think the premier broke his promise to health care workers and voters by tearing up these contracts, also up from a year ago.

The telephone survey of 403 British Columbians carried out January 10-15 shows that the public isn’t buying the government’s line that Bill 29 is needed to provide flexibility and put patients first. Sixty per cent believe that Bill 29 paves the way for hospital closures, service cuts and privatization.

“A year has passed but the impact of the Campbell Liberals’ act of legislative vandalism continues to register with British Columbians,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “The public recognizes that privatization is the wrong answer for patients. They’re concerned that skilled and experienced health care workers are getting sacked and that our health care system is in chaos.”

The provincial government and its health authorities are using Bill 29 provisions to contract out a range of health services including housekeeping, laundry, food services and security in hospitals and long-term care facilities. More than 5,000 workers are targeted by privatization to lose their jobs by June.

These moves are attracting a lot of public attention – there’s 90 per cent awareness of the government’s contracting out plans – up 20 per cent from June. And by a solid margin of 55 to 37 per cent, British Columbians oppose privatization of hospital support services. That’s up from 41 per cent opposed in June, 2002.

In a cautionary note to a government banking on a successful Olympic bid, the poll also shows that nearly 70 per cent of British Columbians agree that breaking legally binding contracts will harm investor confidence and hurt B.C.’s international reputation.

“The Campbell Liberals want to put the province on display to the world but the scenery is not too pretty,” says Allnutt. “It includes closed hospitals, a wholesale sell-off of health services to global corporations and the prospect of thousands of skilled, experienced and mostly female workers dumped on the street. The success of our Olympic bid depends on the premier taking a different path.”

Before the election, Premier Campbell promised to honour negotiated collective agreements covering B.C. health care workers. Last year his government passed a law that makes dramatic changes to these agreements. Looking back, some say Premier Campbell has broken his promise to health care workers and voters. Others say he was right to take this step. Which view is closest to your own?

For the poll questions and poll results please go to heu.org and click on the top news release on the right side bar.