Home Business & Economy Health Care Sector Four years later: punctuating how health aide workers rejoined the fold

Four years later: punctuating how health aide workers rejoined the fold

Thursday November 24, 2022 | VICTORIA, BC

Editorial insights by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

A flash of the past, a blast to the future. Today Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrian Dix highlighted the passage of Bill 47, which four years ago got the ball rolling for repatriating housekeeping and food-service contracts for hospital workers in BC.

david eby, premier
Premier David Eby [Nov 24, 2022 | livestream]

This comes just 14 days ahead of Eby’s announcement of which MLAs will support his leadership in his NDP government cabinet. That announcement comes December 7. Eby became BC’s 37th Premier just last week, on November 18 (through a BC NDP leadership race).

Today Eby repeated a theme from his housing announcement this week, that “politicians don’t act in a vacuum, we need advocates, we need champions”. That was part of his thank you to hospital workers who slogged it out in the trenches as the NDP worked from 2007 to right the wrongs of the cancellation of hospital support worker contracts, eventually bringing in Bill 47 in 2018.

“Food, a clean room, the basics”, these help make sure the hospital stay for patients is as positive as possible, Eby pointed out. “That’s not possible without your work,” he said to a crowd of people today in the Hall of Honour at the BC Parliament Buildings in downtown Victoria.

Dix on the health file:

In his five years as BC’s health minister, Adrian Dix has overseen several changes in the hospital and health-care system, and has co-ushered the province through the COVID-19 pandemic along with Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry.

dr henry, adrian dix
BC COVID update on March 1, 2022 by Dr Henry and Health Minister Dix. Some reprieve from COVID public health restrictions are likely.

Dix has approached his Ministry by fixing the status quo system (though moving it along with measures such as bolstering and streamlining professional college administrative bodies), through less so with an emphasis on preventive health care.

During the first year of the pandemic (in 2020) Dix chose to cancel most surgeries at first, then brought in a renewal program in order to catch up. The wear and tear on health care employees at all levels (but particularly doctors and nurses whose expertise should remain at peak performance) was not wholesomely addressed until burnout became evident in year two of the pandemic.

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Today Dix said Bill 47 “is something that we worked on for well over a decade, to see this happen”. He noted that people “who had been treated with disrespect for 15 years still went into work, cleaned hospitals” and more, including during the first phase of the pandemic “when unknowns were great and fear was high”. Today Dix expressed gratitude “for everyone involved”.

Vancouver General Hospital
Vancouver General Hospital discovered cases of COVID-19 in the days leading up to Christmas 2019.

Ending the privatization era:

In August 2021, BC announced that people in acute care facilities will have more consistent, safe and stable patient care, as the government starting bringing thousands of support service workers and services (that were previously contracted out) back to work directly for health authorities.

That was almost 20 years of those services being contracted to private companies (amidst the overall privatization strategy of the former BC Liberal government).

adrian dix
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix [Nov 24, 2022 | livestream]

The August 2021 announcement was that starting Fall 2021, the Province would serve notice under the terms of 21 commercial service contracts and start a phased approach to repatriating housekeeping and food-service contracts.

hospital, food
Hospital food service.

The move was instigated as a way to improve wages, working conditions, job security and stability for approximately 4,000 workers who rely on their jobs, and the countless patients that they help each day. By promoting a stable and effective workforce, government will be better positioned to offer attractive jobs options to people interested in joining the workforce.

The NDP’s Bill 47:

This move started with Bill 47 (Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act) as announced November 8, 2018, which was brought into force through regulation on July 1, 2019. Bill 47 repealed two existing pieces of legislation: the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act (Bill 29) and the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act (Bill 94) which facilitated contracting out in the health sector and caused significant labour impacts.

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“Bill 47 was an important step in bringing basic fairness to public health care in our province,” said Dix at the time. “The repatriation of housekeeping and food services contracts is good for patients, for workers, for the health-care team and for recruiting future health-care workers. It treats those who do the essential and life-saving work of keeping our hospitals and facilities clean and ensuring the nutrition of our patients with fairness and dignity. There is always more to do, but I am very proud of these decisions and the value they place on public health care.”

As it so happens, most of the people working in the housekeeping and food service sector are women. The BC Liberals decision to cut the legs out from under the financial security of many women had generational family impacts (and inherently presumed that women have other supports through patriarchal relationships); that has been a dark chapter in the BC government record.

david eby, premier, hall of honour
Celebrating the four-year anniversary of Bill 47, at the BC Parliament Buildings Hall of Honour, Nov 24, 2022. [Livestream]

Government worked with the Hospital Employees’ Union, health authorities and contractors on a phased-in plan that allows employers to address the necessary change in a way that strengthens and enhances the health system’s services.

butch dick, first nations
Indigenous Leader Butch Dick at the Bill 47 celebration, Nov 24, 2022. [livestream]

Today Hospital Employees Union (HEU) Secretary/Business Manager Mina Brassard said that hospital housekeepers and dietary workers paid the price when their family-supporting jobs were eliminated, noting mostly that women and racialized people “paid the price”.

Thanking Horgan:

Former Premier John Horgan was thanked by everyone today, for essentially his political mastery over many years to help reinstate the unfairly treated health care support workers back within the public service.

Today Eby recalled Horgan saying that the passage of Bill 47 was one of his proudest moments as Premier, and that today’s celebration was a recognition of that work.

Taking care of the people:

mable elmore
Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors Services and Long Term Care, Nov 24, 2022.

In an introduction today by Indigenous leader Butch Dick he noted, reflecting on Bill 47, “how important it is to take care of the people who take care of us”.

Today’s event was emceed by Mable Elmore, Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors Services and Long Term Care.

Elmore said at today’s event that Bill 47 has been instrumental in “strengthening health care for patients, families, seniors and people with disabilities”.


mary p brooke
Mary P Brooke, Editor, Island Social Trends

Island Social Trends is a professional news portal at islandsocialtrends.ca . Fully online since mid-2020, Island Social Trends emerged from previous print publications in the west shore: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020).

Since 2008, journalist and editor Mary P Brooke has taken a socioeconomic lens to the news of the west shore and south Vancouver Island region, including BC provincial news, and national news impacts. [See Island Social Trends Politics Archive].

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