Collective bargaining begins between province and 58K unionized health-care workers in B.C.

The current agreement expires March 31

Vernon Jubilee Hospital. | Photo by Jon Manchester

Collective bargaining began Friday between the province and 58,000 unionized health-care workers in B.C.

The nine-union Facilities Bargaining Association (FBA) and Health Employers Association of BC were scheduled to start talks aimed at new collective agreement.

Negotiations are set against the backdrop of a two-year pandemic that’s left health-care workers exhausted and short-handed, the unions say.

More than 90 per cent of FBA members are represented by the Hospital Employees’ Union.

“Through this global health crisis, health-care workers have found themselves in frightening circumstances, dealing with an unpredictable virus that has turned their workplaces upside down,” says HEU secretary-business manager Meena Brisard.

“Through it all, they have shown incredible courage and commitment. But they are on the brink — exhausted and burnt out — and we should all be very concerned about what this means for the sustainability of our health-care system beyond this pandemic.”

The unions are seeking safer workplaces, wage increases, and measures aimed at retention and recruitment of skilled health-care workers.

Last year, a survey of health-care workers found that workloads, mental health, family relationships and workers' sense of personal safety have been negatively impacted by the pandemic — with nearly one in four saying they’re more likely to quit health care within the next two years as a direct result of their experiences during COVID-19.

“We need bold measures to support health-care workers now and attract the health-care workforce of tomorrow,” Brisard said in a press release.

Workers covered by the agreement include nearly 300 job classifications in hospitals and long-term care homes, clinics, supply warehouses, corporate offices and other settings.

The current three-year agreement expires on March 31.