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November 24, 2009

Liberal Credibility on Care-home Layoffs

You can tell when the BC Liberals are in trouble when they try to hide behind the NDP. Witness the 200 employees given pink slips at three seniors care centres owned by Retirement Concepts. In question period, Health Minister Kevin Falcon referred to a 1999 Nanaimo News story which reported on the NDP government entering into a public-private partnership with Retirement Concepts to build 125 multi-level care beds in Nanaimo. The problem for Falcon is that the chaos created at the Retirement Concepts' facilities is not related to partnerships or contracting out; the chaos is a direct result of changes the Campbell Liberals made to labour law. That didn't stop Falcon from going on to describe the default on wages by a Retirement Concepts' contractor as a "labour dispute". When did failing to pay wages become a labour dispute rather than a violation of BC's laws?

With Bill 29 (2002) and again with Bill 94 (2003), the Campbell government introduced a definition of "employee" that is different for health workers than it is for workers in any other industry. In Bill 94 they declared:

The labour relations board or an arbitrator appointed under the Code or under a collective agreement must not declare a person who
(a) is an employee of the designated private sector partner, and
(b) provides non-clinical services under the agreement referred to in section 2 (a)
to be an employee of a health sector partner unless the health sector partner intended the employee to be fully integrated with its operations and working under its direct supervision and control.

Bill 94 (2003) Section 3

All workers, except those in the health sector, have their status as employees determined by the definition and jurisprudence of the Labour Code. First with Bill 29 (2002) , and again with Bill 94 (2003), the Campbell government added an assurance that dependent contractors wouldn't have their staff declared employees of the company where they work. That is why care facilities owned by Retirement Concepts are able to have caregivers that are employees of contractors, who routinely go out of business and are replaced, with the consequence that the caregivers have their salaries and benefits reduced and they have to start over again organizing and negotiating. Of course, that environment encourages high turnover as workers look elsewhere for job security and it reduces the quality of care as seniors don't know who is looking after them from day-to-day.

The Campbell government is facing major credibility issues. Many British Columbians believe the government lied about the HST during the course of the May election campaign. Many are angered over the thousands of small but vital grants that have been cut for the arts and for education, described as death-by-a-thousand cuts when referencing the backlash the government is facing. In that environment, it takes a lot of gall for Falcon to describe the consequences of his government's legislation in terms that are contrary to the facts.

The Campbell government created a situation where companies that provide care for seniors can routinely escape their obligations to care givers by watching subcontractors to go under, making collective agreements worthless and forcing staff to beg for their jobs back at lower wages and fewer benefits. That is not theoretical; it has happened repeatedly at facilities owned by Retirement Concepts.

Health workers and their clients don't want special treatment. They just want the same labour law that applies to grocery clerks, mechanics and saw mill workers to apply to them. They don't want one labour law for health care and a separate one for everyone else. Contracting-out may be controversial, as is public-private partnerships, but this is about the changes the Campbell government imposed on the Labour Relations Board. The Campbell government created special labour legislation designed to break the Hospital Employees Union; it has resulted in instability and a loss of continuity of care for seniors.


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