September 3, 2021 - No. 78

Good News in Workers' Fights in Defence of Their Rights

Hospital Employees' Union in BC Announces Victory

Victoria, July 22, 2021. One of a number of actions around BC in fight to reverse privatization.

Reversing Privatization Can Be Done!
• Congratulations to Olymel Workers in Vallée-Jonction!

Good News in Workers' Fights in Defence of Their Rights

Hospital Employees' Union in BC Announces Victory

The Hospital Employees' Union (HEU) announced a victory on August 30 in the long fight of hospital workers to reverse the privatization of hospital cleaning and food services work. More than 4,000 hospital workers will return to employment with the BC Health Authorities.

To pay the rich, the BC Liberal government in 2002 privatized certain hospital services, handing the work to global cartels as lucrative contracts. To prepare the legal provisions to privatize the hospital work, the BC government of the day introduced legislation to overturn health care workers' collective agreements containing job security provisions and to remove the workers from any protection from provincial labour laws that could have prevented or blunted the negative impact of privatization.

After the government cleared the way for privatization under its rule of law and the contracts with the cartels were signed, all service workers affected found themselves without employment. HEU writes, "Thousands of health care workers -- mostly women -- were fired as health authorities contracted out hospital services. Those workers were invited to reapply for their jobs at half the wages by the corporations that won lucrative service contracts."

Seven global cartels today buy the capacity to work of 4,000 regular and casual hospital service workers. The cartels have 21 commercial contracts with Vancouver Coastal Health, Vancouver Island Health, Fraser Health and the Provincial Health Services authorities.

The workers have reorganized themselves within the HEU and have waged a tireless struggle to both improve their wages and working conditions and to reverse the privatization. Despite their efforts to organize and defend themselves, at this time their wages in equivalent dollars are lower than 18 years ago during the SARS epidemic.

The government and health authorities admit that the low wages and mostly irregular precarious working conditions of hospital service workers are an impediment to hiring and retaining workers. This problem has become worse during the pandemic and could be a reason prompting the ruling elite to reverse the privatization at this time.

HEU says it "reached an agreement with public health employers and government earlier this year on a labour adjustment framework for the transfer of workers to health authorities." It says bringing the workers back as government employees will immediately raise their wages and "improve recruitment and retention rates for these critical jobs, and will ensure greater worker and patient safety."

The workers, as employees of the Health Authorities, will be covered by the existing collective agreement that covers food service and housekeeping workers throughout the province whose jobs were not contracted out.

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada (MLPC) congratulates the service workers and their union HEU for winning this round against the anti-social offensive which opens a path to improve their wages and working conditions. The attack on hospital workers under the neo-liberal anti-social offensive holds many lessons for workers generally. Importantly, it highlights the necessity for workers to develop their own independent stands which favour them and know that their security lies in the fight for the rights of all!

The program to Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Funding for Social Programs! is crucial today as cartel parties are vying to form the government at the federal level in favour of the likes of the seven global cartels which have been making a killing in BC's health care sector.

(Photos: HEU)

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Reversing Privatization Can Be Done!

For decades, as part of waging the neo-liberal anti-social offensive, governments at both the provincial and federal level have undertaken a program of privatization of social programs and public institutions using means legal and foul to overturn contracts, take away pensions and treat workers as disposable. In the private sector as well means legal and foul have been used to lower wages, overturn working conditions and steal pensions. When the BC government in 2002 opened up the health care sector to seven private global cartels it broke with impunity the existing legal framework of contracts and labour law to privatize hospital service work and contract it out.

The working people consider all of this to be a grave crime against workers yet no one has been held to account.

All across the country workers need assurance that wages and working conditions are set at a Canadian standard and that neo-liberal privatization will not prevail. Except for acute care hospitals and some long-term care homes, the entire BC health care system is privatized to pay the rich. Workers themselves through their own organized determination and strength of numbers and position in the economy as the producing class have successfully defended their rights which defends the well-being of all. It is a political fight waged on the basis of what serves the workers and society itself. 

Congratulations on your hard-fought success! Privatization can be reversed! Bravo!

The provincial health authorities will end the following contracts with seven global cartels.

Vancouver Island Health Authority
MHC/Compass, 190 full-time equivalent (FTE), mixed services
Morrison, 152 FTE, patient food services
Compass, 230 FTE, housekeeping
Acciona, 115 FTE, housekeeping

Fraser Health
Sodexo, 297 FTE, housekeeping; 63 FTE, mixed services
Aramark, 214 FTE, housekeeping
Compass, 132 FTE, mixed services

Provincial Health Services Authority
Compass, 91 FTE, housekeeping; 47 FTE, patient/retail food services (two contracts same service, same provider, across multiple facilities)
SerVantage, 25 FTE, housekeeping

Vancouver Coastal Health/Providence Health Care
Compass, 12 FTE, patient food services; 736 FTE, housekeeping; 13 FTE, mixed services (two contracts same service, same provider, across multiple facilities)
Sodexo, 538 FTE, patient/retail food services (five contracts same service, same provider, across multiple facilities)

(Photos: HEU)

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Congratulations to Olymel Workers
in Vallée-Jonction!

On August 31, workers at Olymel's pork processing plant in Vallée-Jonction, Quebec voted 78 per cent in favour of the tentative agreement reached with the company two days earlier. This puts an end to the strike which started on April 28.

In a press release, the Olymel Workers Union in Vallée-Jonction (CSN) presented the main features of the agreement.

"We have agreed to a new six-year work contract during which we will receive wage increases of 26.4 per cent, including 10 per cent in the first year. In addition to the 4.4 per cent average increase per year, we also received a lump sum payment of $65 per year of service per member," said Martin Maurice, president of the union.

"We also obtained a 50 per cent increase in the employer's contribution to our group insurance for family coverage, which brings the total increase for the first year to 12.48 per cent. The result of the vote shows us that our members are satisfied with the gains we have made. We made the choice to significantly improve the wages of all the workers and that is exactly what we finally got," Maurice added.

In 2007, Vallée-Jonction workers lost nearly 40 per cent of their wages under the threat that Olymel would close the plant. Prior to the ratification of the new collective agreement, the majority of union members earned only $1.13 per hour more than in 2007, an average annual increase of $0.08 per hour over 14 years. A meaningful wage catch-up was a key demand of the workers.

It was necessary to achieve wages that workers consider acceptable in today's conditions. It was also necessary to retain workers at the plant where turnover is high due to low wages and poor working conditions. The union estimates that between 2015 and 2021, more than 1,800 people were hired at Vallée-Jonction and in the same period nearly 1,700 left their jobs.

Workers lost their pension plan in 2007, also under threat of closure. Under the new agreement, a simplified defined-contribution pension plan is to be established. It will come into effect during the last two years of the agreement, with a total Olymel contribution of 1.5 per cent during those years.

Following the ratification of the agreement, everything needed to resume operations was quickly set in motion.

Mechanics went to work on September 1. The plant was sanitized on September 2. On September 3 production begins with the slaughter of some hogs. All the workers will return to work on September 7 when operations will resume in full.

Workers' Forum salutes the Olymel workers for waging a courageous struggle in Vallée-Jonction. They have fought with conviction and brought honour to themselves and to their region. This contribution to the fight for the dignity of labour and particularly for the workers in the slaughterhouses and meat processing industry who face some of the most exploitative working conditions in the country will encourage others that change is possible.

Olymel used its control of 80 per cent of Quebec's pork slaughter capacity and its media connections to try to mobilize the people against the workers who were depicted as causing harm to hog farmers and the food supply for the public. The longer the strike went on, the more intense the media propaganda became that the workers would be responsible for the euthanasia of over 130,000 hogs. Olymel also resurrected its threat to close the plant.

At the eleventh hour Olymel said they would eliminate the evening shift if the workers did not ratify the contract. This would have caused the loss of 500 jobs.

The Legault government and its labour minister remained silent on all these provocations while hypocritically claiming to be supporting a negotiated settlement of the dispute.

The Olymel workers did not flinch and persisted in defending the claims they are entitled to make as a matter of right.

Union president Martin Maurice told Workers' Forum:

"The workers fought. They were not afraid of the closure. Some media outlets have said that 'You were afraid of closure, that's why you accepted the tentative agreement.' No, we were not afraid to fight and were not afraid of closure. It was the opposite. There were four things we wanted to achieve when we negotiated over the last weekend. We got three out of the four. That's why the workers accepted the agreement and not because of the threat of closure."

Bravo to the Olymel workers! You have inspired all workers by waging this just struggle in the most difficult conditions!

(Quotations translated from the original french by Workers' Forum. Photo: CSN)

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