Health Workers Celebrate Repeal of Bill 29 and Bill 94


Nov. 19, 2018 

From giving up hopes of home ownership to declaring bankruptcy, two bills changed lives. Now, ‘there is a hope.’

By Andrew MacLeod 19 Nov 2018 | TheTyee.ca
Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at amacleod@thetyee.ca

Catalina Samson earns less money than she did 16 years ago, when the BC Liberal government passed two bills that opened the gate to an era of privatization in the health-care sector. ‘I lost all my benefits. Nothing. No sick time, no vacation, nothing at all.’Photo by Sarah Rozell.

[Excerpt] For Catalina Samson, a provincial government decision 16 years ago led to a big pay cut and the death of her dream of owning her own home.

At the time she was working two food services jobs, both unionized, one at a nursing home and one at Vancouver General Hospital. 

“I was happy at the time,” Samson said. “I was working well. Everything was in place as a worker. I was really setting my goal toward retirement too.”

She’d come to Canada as an immigrant from the Philippines in 1991. She was working hard, she had goals and it seemed possible to realize them. “My dream was to own a place… even a condominium, a place to live in.

Then, following the 2001 election, the BC Liberal government brought in two bills that upheaved Samson’s life and led to the layoff of some 10,000 other workers like her.

The first, Bill 29, had a stated aim of making it cheaper for health employers and social service agencies to deliver services to the public. 

It did that by making it easier to contract out services to companies and removing provisions that protected workers who were laid off. 

The other, Bill 94, was intended to “facilitate development and implementation of public-private partnerships in the health sector, enabling improved delivery of cost effective non-clinical services to the public.” 

Together the bills opened the gate to a new era of privatization and made it difficult for workers in the sector and their unions to resist.

Earlier this month the NDP government introduced a bill that will repeal both Liberal bills and allow employees in the health-care sector to enjoy the same rights as other workers in the province.

It has received first reading in the legislature but still has a way to go before it becomes law.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said he was proud to be part of a government repealing bills that led to layoffs and contracting out in health care. “Health-care workers have fewer rights and were singled out for special negative treatment.”

Every time a contractor changed, salaries were reduced, he said. “They have to go through the process again, and again, and again, and again. This is of course devastating to the health-care workers, but it’s also devastating to the seniors who depend on those workers for care.”

In many cases care aides provide the majority of the care for patients, Dix said. The government’s changes damaged that care and the continuity that comes with knowing the people looking after you. 

Any savings the public may have gained came at a high price for workers like Samson. She lost both her jobs, but was able to keep working by accepting reduced pay from the new contractors. 

“My payment at the time was $18.10,” she said, recalling her hourly wage before the BC Liberal bills. “When we worked through these private contractors it was $10.15 without any benefits… I lost all my benefits. Nothing. No sick time, no vacation, nothing at all.”

“I really didn’t know at that time what to do, but you have to stretch the money that you have. It was like that.”

‘Down to the bottom’

Amanda Chaplin, now 44, is a residential care aide who worked at a long-term care facility in Chilliwack that was one of many across the province to close as a result of the government-enabled restructuring. 

“I was the lowest person in seniority,” she said. As workers moved from the closing facility to jobs at Chilliwack General Hospital, there were people with 20 years experience who couldn’t get a position. She had five years. 

“Because there was so many people left without positions, there was no work for me,” she said. “I basically lost all my seniority and went down to the bottom.”

At the time Chaplin was a single mom with a little boy, car payments to make and just a few thousand dollars saved towards a down payment for a home. “I started spending my savings and living off my credit cards,” she said.

She retrained and took jobs with construction companies, but there wasn’t enough work to make ends meet. Then she heard from a friend about opportunities in the north of the province. 

“I dropped off the five -year-old I could no longer feed at my mom and dad’s house, and I took off for Fort St. John and lived on a friend’s couch,” she remembered. A few months later, when she’d found a job at a care home, she brought her son to join her.

But it was tough to survive. She’d gone almost $30,000 into debt, and after a year of struggling to catch up on paying her bills she declared bankruptcy. That was the bottom, and since then she’s been rebuilding.

‘We need health-care workers’

Times have changed and now the system needs to not only retain health-care workers but also attract new ones, Dix said, stressing that he opposed the Liberal bills from the start. 

“We need health-care workers, and sending the message this work is precarious at a time when we absolutely need to recruit a new generation of health-care workers is the wrong policy for today,” he said.

Contracting out will still be allowed, but when that happens workers will have rights and the companies won’t be able to use it as a way to diminish wages, he said. “They won’t be able to essentially lay everybody off and drive down wages, so it will take the wage question out of those negotiations.”

To access the entire article, click on: Health Workers Celebrate Repeal of Bill 29 and Bill 94