Laws that allowed health-sector labour contracts to be ripped up and staff fired en masse only to be hired back at lower wages could soon be repealed.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix introduced legislation on Thursday that would ban practices seen in seniors’ homes on Vancouver Island since 2002, in which contracts were flipped several times — reducing health-care workers’ wages, gutting benefits and subjecting elderly clients to ever-changing staff.
The proposed health sector statutes repeal act would rescind in their entirety the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act, commonly known as Bill 29, introduced in 2002, and the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act, known as Bill 94, introduced the following year.
“This is a day health-care workers have been waiting for for 16 years,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager. “It’s a fundamental first step toward trying to repair what is a very fragmented health-care system today.”
The bills introduced by the B.C. Liberals under then-premier Gordon Campbell stripped care aides and non-clinical health-care employees of protections and rights available to other workers under the B.C. Labour Code.
The bills resulted in the “mass firing of thousands and thousands of health-care workers, mostly women” and the proliferation of precarious and low-paying jobs that aren’t sustainable, Whiteside said. “Repealing these laws is a giant step towards restoring justice and fairness for health-care workers,” she said.
Bill 29 was introduced on Jan. 25, 2002, and passed three days later on Jan. 28. The combined bills led to the layoffs of more than 10,000 health-care workers, Dix said.
“The way this was done and the tearing up of contracts and the long-term impacts have been very significant,” Dix said in an interview.
“Bill 29 was an abuse of power by the B.C. Liberals,” said Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
Repealing the legislation, she said, “will end rampant contract-flipping in health care, and make for more stable care — especially for seniors.”
Bill 29 excluded care aides and non-clinical health-sector workers from Labour Code protections. They include workers in housekeeping; residential health-care aides; facilities, janitorial, maintenance and laundry services staff; food services workers; security staff; and information technology and accounting staff.
It opened the door for private health-care facilities to contract out services and eliminate union succession rights, which required health-care facilities to honour the former collective agreement negotiated with the previous contractor.
In September 2016, about 140 care aides, nurses, cleaners, recreation aides, dietary staff and maintenance workers at Wexford Creek care home in Nanaimo were laid off and their work contracted out to Care Corp after the home was sold to Park Place Seniors Living.
Bill 94 was enacted with the intention of facilitating public-private partnerships in the health sector. “Bill 94 effectively did in the facilities sector, in the P3 sector, what Bill 29 did in the long-term care sector,” Dix said.
“Together, they had enormous significance in the province,” said Dix, citing care homes on Vancouver Island affected by contract flips. “For the people who are living in the care home, this is incredibly disruptive.”
In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions in Bill 29 interfered with the right to bargain collectively and violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 2008, some provisions in both Bills 29 and 94 were repealed but those denying workers successorship and some protections remained.
With an aging population, there’s growing demand for these skilled workers, Dix said.
“Today we are trying to recruit thousands of new people to take care of us in the future,” he said. “We need to attract more care aides, community health and hospital workers throughout the province.”
The province needs to hire 900 net new care aides alone just to meet provincial care-hour standards, never mind a new generation of care aides needed to one day replace the current crop — most of whom are over 50 years of age, said Dix.
The proposed legislation to repeal the statutes will come into effect through regulation likely in the spring of 2019, Dix said.
The province said it will consult with unions, employers and all stakeholders to implement the repeal in a way that strengthens the publicly funded health-care system.
The B.C. Care Providers Association, which represents private care operators, said it recognizes the legislation could help address recruitment challenges.
“We support the intent of the legislation,” spokesperson Mike Klassen said. “We support any efforts from government to try and make sure we address the crisis we’re facing in seniors care staffing.”
Klassen said the system might need more funding to address the consequences of the legislation.
— With a file from the Vancouver Sun