Health workers, province reach tentative agreement

Government and union representatives Thursday announced that they had, with the assistance of mediator Vince Ready, reached a tentative agreement that offers five years of labour peace in hospitals.

It also offers a 5.5 per cent increase to workers, although the details of the deal haven’t yet been released.

The Facilities Bargaining Association, made up of members of the Hospital Employees’ Union, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is unanimously recommending the agreement to its unions.

HEU represents a majority of the workers covered by the collective agreement.

The settlement not only includes the general wage increases over the life of the agreement, but also limits contracting out, expands employment options and protects benefits, according to HEU’s communications officer Mike Old.

Some issues surrounding paramedics have also been addressed.

This tentative five-year agreement covers approximately 43,600 unionized employees including care aides, paramedics, dispatchers, ambulance drivers, cleaners and lab assistants, as well as nursing unit assistants and administrative/support staff. The five-year deal is indicative of provincial government’s push for longer-term contracts in the public-sector as also seen by the recent push for a 10-year deal with BC Teachers’ Federation.

Details of the agreement will be available once the ratification process is complete.

HEU secretary-business manager Bonnie Pearson says the 96 per cent strike mandate delivered by union members two weeks ago helped secure the tentative deal.

"Health care workers signalled clearly that they were determined to protect jobs and improve working and caring conditions," Pearson said. She is also chief spokesperson for the FBA.

"This agreement meets those conditions and provides a measure of stability and certainty in a health care system that is under considerable stress," she added.

The collective agreement includes workers in Cowichan District Hospital, Cairsmore Extended Care and Chemainus Health Centre. The current collective agreement with the Health Employers Association of B.C. expired on March 31.