OLD HANDS RULE

B.C. gov’t to ban con­tract flip­ping at se­niors homes and other health fa­cil­i­ties

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - ROB SHAW rshaw@post­media.com twit­ter.com/rob­shaw_­van­sun

VIC­TO­RIA — B.C.’s NDP govern­ment is ban­ning con­tract flip­ping at health-care fa­cil­i­ties, such as se­niors care homes, where em­ploy­ees are of­ten laid off and then re­hired at lower wages.

Health Min­is­ter Adrian Dix in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day that would re­peal laws en­acted by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral govern­ment in 2002-03 that al­lowed union­ized work­ers to be fired en masse and then hired for their same jobs with weaker con­tracts.

“Govern­ment-di­rected con­tracts, and re­ally they are all govern­ment pay con­tracts pro­vided with pri­vate con­trac­tors, will not be able to use driv­ing down wages in this way as a way to con­trol costs,” said Dix.

The changes would re­store the rights of health-care work­ers to have their col­lec­tive agree­ments and wages trans­ferred when their em­ployer — usu­ally a con­trac­tor or sub­con­trac­tor — changes.

Cur­rently, the govern­ment pro­vides pub­lic fund­ing for beds in­side pri­vate care fa­cil­i­ties, such as at se­niors homes, which can then con­tract or sub­con­tract to hire care aides, jan­i­tors, house­keep­ers, main­te­nance work­ers and food ser­vice staff. If the pri­vate op­er­a­tor later changes con­trac­tors — of­ten to save money — the en­tire work­force may be laid off and have to rene­go­ti­ate their jobs at lower wages to do the same work.

The prac­tice, known as con­tract-flip­ping, has been well doc­u­mented in sev­eral B.C. cases, in­clud­ing Nanaimo’s Wex­ford Creek, where more than 140 em­ploy­ees were fired and re­hired with lesser wages and ben­e­fits sev­eral times as the pri­vate care home changed con­trac­tors and own­er­ship.

It has also been an is­sue in Lower Main­land care homes, in­clud­ing in Co­quit­lam where more than 150 care home work­ers were threat­ened with lay­offs at two care homes af­ter union­iz­ing ear­lier this year.

Crit­ics have said it not only makes for poor work­ing con­di­tions for staff, but also leads to un­cer­tainty for frail se­niors who have formed con­nec­tions with their care providers.

The NDP leg­is­la­tion won’t ban the prac­tice of health au­thor­i­ties pro­vid­ing pub­lic funds to pri­vate health-care fa­cil­i­ties or those fa­cil­i­ties then sub­con­tract­ing the work.

“But they won’t be able to es­sen­tially lay ev­ery­body off and drive down wages,” said Dix. “So it will take the wage ques­tion out of those ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

The new NDP leg­is­la­tion would not come into force im­me­di­ately, as the govern­ment takes time to con­sult on a tran­si­tion.

The Hospi­tal Em­ploy­ees’ Union cel­e­brated the change by watch­ing the Hansard video feed live at a party con­ven­tion and cheer­ing when Dix in­tro­duced the bill on Thurs­day.

“There was ju­bi­la­tion on the part of health-care work­ers to hear the in­tro­duc­tion of this leg­is­la­tion re­peal­ing what has been fun­da­men­tally un­fair and dra­co­nian,” said HEU’s sec­re­tary-busi­ness man­ager, Jen­nifer White­side.

She de­scribed the “ab­so­lutely out­ra­geous cy­cle of for­profit nurs­ing home op­er­a­tors sub­con­tract­ing work repet­i­tively” that led some care fa­cil­i­ties to flip con­tracts as many as six times on work­ers, she said.

Dix said the changes will also help with re­cruit­ment. In or­der to meet the NDP’s promised 3.36 di­rect care hours a day for each res­i­dent, Dix said the govern­ment will have to hire 900 ad­di­tional care aides and re­place a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of those who are re­tir­ing.

“Send­ing the mes­sage this work is pre­car­i­ous at a time when you ab­so­lutely need to re­cruit a new gen­er­a­tion of health-care work­ers is ab­so­lutely the wrong pol­icy for to­day,” said Dix.

The B.C. Care Providers As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents pri­vate care op­er­a­tors, ex­pressed qual­i­fied sup­port.

“We sup­port the in­tent of the leg­is­la­tion,” said spokesper­son Mike Klassen. “We sup­port any ef­forts from govern­ment to try to make sure we ad­dress the cri­sis we’re fac­ing in se­niors care staffing. And we hope we have a clear un­der­stand­ing of the costs.”

Klassen said the se­niors care sys­tem may need more fund­ing to deal with the con­se­quences of the leg­is­la­tion.

Leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced Thurs­day ends prac­tice that al­lows union­ized work­ers to be fired en masse, and then re­hired for their same jobs un­der weaker con­tracts for less pay.

JA­SON PAYNE/PNG FILES

Health Min­is­ter Adrian Dix in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day to stop ‘con­tract flip­ping,’ in which em­ploy­ees are laid off and re­hired at lower wages.

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