Health workers ratify new five-year deal

Health care workers, including those from the Cowichan Valley, have ratified a new five-year collective agreement by a vote of 64.6 per cent.

The agreement between the 11-union Facilities Bargaining Association and government’s bargaining agent – the Health Employers Association of B.C. – covers 47,000 workers in hospitals, care homes, emergency health services, logistics and supply warehouses, and other settings.

Backed by a hefty 96 per cent strike vote, the negotiators knew there were problems to address.

The new deal includes 5.5 per cent in general wage increases, a cap on contracting out of 500 full-time equivalent positions over the life of the agreement, a transition to joint administration of benefits, and continued funding of a union-managed education and skills upgrading program.

"The agreement provides some stability and certainty in a sector that’s been racked by privatization and restructuring," said Bonnie Pearson, Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager.

The term of the agreement is April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2019.

But, there’s still the need for more talk.

"At the same time, the vote results should send a clear signal to government that health care workers are impatient with government’s inflexible and tightfisted attitude at the bargaining table," she said.

Pearson is also chief spokesperson for the FBA.

In a separate set of provisions relating to ambulance paramedics and dispatchers, negotiated changes maintain distinct language covering ambulance services while addressing long-standing issues within the collective agreement, according to Pearson.

HEU represents about 85 per cent of health care workers covered by these talks.

A further 14 per cent are represented by CUPE Local 873, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 882/882H.

Another seven unions represent less than one per cent of workers in the FBA and are represented at the bargaining table by the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers Local 5.