Vancouver News

B.C. health unions reach contract deal

By The Canadian Press

BURNABY, B.C. - A tentative, five-year contract agreement has been reached between tens of thousands of B.C. health-care workers and their employers.

The deal announced Thursday was secured with the help of mediator Vince Ready and would give members of the 11-union, 47,000-strong Facilities Bargaining Association a wage increases of 5.5 per cent over five years.

The agreement would also limit contracting out, expand employment options, protect benefits, and address issues related to paramedics, the association added.

The association's contract expired March 31 and a month later the group voted 96 per cent in favour of a strike mandate.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong commended both sides for reaching the deal, saying more than 100,000 employees are covered by tentative and ratified agreements negotiated under the Economic Stability Mandate.

"We are seeing considerable progress in reaching longer-term agreements under this mandate, and I encourage employers and unions across the public sector to continue negotiating, because these settlements can be reached," said de Jong in a news release.

But negotiating a deal was made possible by the union members' strike mandate, said Bonnie Pearson, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees' Union, the largest union in the association.

"Health-care workers signalled clearly that they were determined to protect jobs and improve working and caring conditions," she said in a news release. "This agreement meets those conditions and provides a measure of stability and certainty in a health-care system that is under considerable stress."

Union members will receive more details next week, but the HEU has already recommended ratification.

Workers represented by the association serve in more than 15 occupations, ranging from care aid and ambulance paramedics to admitting clerks and cleaning staff.

The HEU represents about 85 per cent of the 47,000 workers. Another 14 per cent are represented by CUPE, the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The final one per cent is represented by the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada.

Health Minister Terry Lake said the tentative agreement covers 43,600 health-care workers who play crucial roles in keeping the health system functioning. He said the agreement will ensure British Columbians who need medical care receive it in a timely and effective manner and in a safe environment.

-- by Keven Drews in Vancouver

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