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Health care workers are on strike at health care facilities across the province to back their fight for a fair, negotiated contract settlement that protects health services and decent jobs.

Picket lines are going up at most facilities in the province following an overtime ban that was implemented at the expiry of the 72-hour notice period at noon Sunday.

“Public health care is on the line,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “Government legislation shredding our last contract resulted in closed hospitals, service cuts, and mass lay offs of more than 6,000 skilled and dedicated workers mostly women.

“And if government and health employers have their way in this round of bargaining, the chaos and privatization thats infected our health care system for the past two years will expand,” adds Allnutt who speaks for the multi-union association negotiating for 43,000 hospital and long-term care staff.

Allnutt says talks stalled over the Health Employers Association of B.C demand for nearly $900 million in wage and benefit concessions over three years with no employment security and a refusal to put privatization on hold during collective bargaining.

“From doctors to nurses to paramedical professionals, government hasnt managed to negotiate a single agreement in the hospital and long-term care sector and has resorted to legislation in every case,” says

Allnutt. “Legislation wont solve this dispute its why weve reached this point. Whats needed now is a commitment by government to respect legally negotiated contracts and the collective bargaining process.

“We have been clear with health employers about what is necessary for productive talks to take place,” says Allnutt. “Put privatization on hold while we work towards a contract settlement.”

HEU represents 40,000 workers affected by the contract talks. Ten other unions in the bargaining association including the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers represent the remaining 3,000 workers.

Workers covered by the contract talks include hundreds of job classifications including LPNs and care aides, lab assistants, x-ray and ECG technicians, biomedical engineers, trades, cleaners, dietary workers and clerical staff like medical transcriptionists, OR booking clerks and unit coordinators.