OLD HANDS RULE
B.C. gov’t to ban contract flipping at seniors homes and other health facilities
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.
Health Minister Adrian Dix introduced legislation Thursday to stop ‘contract flipping,’ in which employees are laid off and rehired at lower wages.