B.C. to phase out private housekeeping, food service contracts in acute care

Workers employed by private contractors who provide housekeeping and food services at acute care facilities in British Columbia will have their employment returned to the province’s health authorities.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday the provincial government will serve notice starting this fall under the terms of 21 commercial contracts of its intention to start returning the workers’ employment to the health authorities. The phased-in approach to its decision will affect about 4,000 workers, he said.

“Government will be better positioned to offer attractive job-offer options to people interested in joining the health-care workforce,” Dix told a news conference.

“This will be good for patients. It will be good for the quality of service, it will be good for health-care workers.”

The province is working with the Hospital Employees’ Union, health authorities and contractors on its plan, he said. The transition to government employment will end before most of the contracts expire by March, Dix said.

“It treats those who do the essential and life-saving work of keeping our hospitals and facilities clean and ensuring the nutrition of our patients with fairness and dignity,” he said in a news release.

Premier John Horgan said in a statement the decision to contract out the work almost 20 years ago has led to lower wages and less job security, particularly for women. Now the government is putting workers who have been employed by private companies on an even footing with public health-care employees, he said.

“Nearly 20 years later, we are still living with the aftermath of those choices, with workers paid less to do the same work as their colleagues in the public system,” Horgan said. “It’s time to put a stop to it.”

Meena Brisard, secretary business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, called the effects of privatization “devastating.”

“Many of these workers were hired at half the wages, with no pension, and very few benefits,” she said, adding that most of those who were affected are women and workers of colour.

Catalina Samson, who works as a dietary aide at Vancouver General Hospital, welcomed the announcement, saying the union has been working toward the decision for decades.

“In 2004, I went from earning $18.10 an hour with benefits and pension to $10.15 an hour,” she told the news conference.

“I lost all my benefits. Nothing. No shift time, no vacation, nothing at all.”

The job requires long hours and hard work, which makes for a high turnover rate, she said.

“Health-care workers like me get overlooked, but what we do is important. Our work is always important, during the pandemic and all of the time,” Samson said.

“The hospital doesn’t run without us, and patients cannot recover without nourishing food or clean environment. We are a vital part of the team and I feel like our work is being recognized for that.”

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