B.C. premier lauds health-care workers as discriminatory labour laws repealed

B.C. Premier John Horgan. Photo by Josh Berson

It isn’t every day that a labour convention witnesses history being made – but it happened at the Hospital Employees Union’s convention in downtown Vancouver last week as two regressive Gordon Campbell-era laws that stripped health-care workers of job-security provisions and protection under provincial labour laws were repealed.

In an emotional statement last Friday British Columbia Premier John Horgan explained how, effective early next year, Bill 47, the Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act, will repeal Bills 29 and 94, which date back to 2002.

Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act which was rammed into law over a weekend in January 2002, led to the firing of thousands of health-care workers and the privatized many health-care sector services. The following year, Bill 94, the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act, gave home-care operators and their subcontractors the ability to sidestep key provision of the labour code, and avoid restrictions on their ability to contract out care and support services.

As a result of these laws, thousands of health-care workers -- mostly women, many of whom were women of colour -- were fired as health authorities contracted out hospital cleaning, food services and other support services. Thousands more were laid off.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that provisions of Bill 29, including those that nullified job security protection, were unconstitutional, and in so doing established collective bargaining as a charter-protected right for all workers.

In his emotional remarks November 9, Horgan teared up as he described campaigning for political office in 2005, finding HEU couples who had lost their jobs, who had taken a cut to keep their jobs “by a government who did not care.”

“You now have a government that cares,” he concluded.

Horgan shared the story of how former MLAs Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan (current MP for Vancouver East) were the two lone MLAs who stood their ground, fighting the legislation over an entire weekend in 2002.

“Had there been proportional representation then, it wouldn’t have been only two strong, passionate women fighting to stop the introduction of discriminatory laws -- there would have been 17 MLAs fighting for your rights,” Horgan explained. “Had proportional representation been in place then, we could have avoided the almost unanimous decision for these bills, with more accurate democratic representation.”

On Thursday, following a live video feed from the B.C. Legislature announcing the new Act, delegates took to the microphones in moving, candid testimony of the hardships they’ve faced following the introduction of bills 29 and 94. They shared personal accounts of losing their jobs with the privatization of services; of losing their homes when workers were forced to take minimum-wage rates in order to keep jobs. The HEU asserts that the repeal of discriminatory health labour laws will also help restore fairness and stability in health care in the province.

The heightened emotions carried into Friday as Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Mental Health and Addiction Minister Judy Darcy, Deputy Speaker Raj Chohan and Labour Minister Harry Bains joined the HEU convention at the front of the room, accompanied by so many MLAs that Horgan joked they would be going into a caucus meeting following his speech.

Link to soundcloud of Horgan’s speech

Photo: Josh Berson

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