Tentative agreement reached

B.C.s 13,000 workers covered by Community Health collective agreement have a tentative agreement for a new contract that includes pay increases, stronger employment security and contracting out protections, and measures to improve health and safety.

-This is a good, solid settlement that meets the priorities set by community health workers," says George Heyman, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, which is the largest union involved in the talks.

The four-year agreement—that covers health care workers who provide home support services for the elderly and infirm, care givers in mental health group homes, drug and alcohol counsellors, and health authority administrative staff—was reached Saturday morning.

It provides wage increases of 11.4 per cent over four years, including: in year one a general wage increase of 1.5 per cent, plus a 3.5 per cent special adjustment to make up for the wage rollback implemented by Victoria in 2004; in the subsequent three years, pay rates will increase by two per cent annually; and additional adjustments for targeted classifications, including Licensed Practical Nurses.

Workers covered by the agreement will also receive one-time signing bonuses of $4,200, and starting April 1 they will now be covered by a proper pension plan.

Heyman says the unions involved in the talks stood firm to negotiate a cap on the number of jobs that can be contracted out. That number is pegged at 700 and includes job losses resulting from the re-tendering of contracts for provision of services like home support.

-Workers in this agreement had their contract shredded by the Campbell government in 2002, and they were forced to bear the brunt of the provincial government belt-tightening. So there is a well-deserved measure of justice in this settlement."

HSA represents 600 workers in the association. Other unions that were part of the talks include the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, Hospital Employees Union, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Professional Employees Association. It is expected that the unions ratification processes will be completed around the end of April.

The multi-union bargaining association is recommending that the deal be approved.

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