Health care workers demanding increase 

Health care workers at the Whistler Health Care Centre are asking their boss to pay up.

The non-unionized workers in Whistler have asked the Sea to Sky Community Health Council (CHC) to increase their wages, making them the same as unionized workers, despite a health ministry directive to the contrary.

"We feel it is very unfair that there is a wage inequity in the corridor and for us it makes a big difference," said Anne Fenwick, a registered nurse at the centre.

The workers have asked the board to pay them the wage increases, including retroactive increases, until the end of the year.

Fenwick said the board has been told by the ministry not to engage in long-term contracts. She said the health care workers’ current demands are not long-term and therefore the CHC should pay "their debts" to their employees until the end of December. They have asked for a response from the board by Friday.

"Because there is so much unrest in the labour industry, we feel that we're going to get lost in the big picture," she said.

Prior to this demand, about 25 health care workers showed up to voice their concerns and grievances with the CHC at a recent open board meeting. They did not like what they heard.

They were told that the ministry had issued a directive to the CHC board stating there could be no wage increases for non-unionized workers until first approved by the ministry. Essentially the board said their hands were tied.

"We have a mandate from the Ministry of Health. We are not in a position to approve the increases without it having gone through the recognized provincial process," said Fran Cuthbert, chair of the CHC.

Before the ministry can approve wage increases for non-unionized health care workers, the proposal must first be approved by the Health Employers' Association of B.C. (HEABC), as well as the Public Service Employers' Council (PSEC).

Cuthbert said the board cannot circumvent this process.

"The board is bound by this process," said Cuthbert. "... It just takes a long time. It's frustrating for everyone concerned but those are the rules of the game," she said.

The board's message came as a surprise to some of the workers.

"I thought we would come out of (the meeting) with them saying the next pay cheque would have the increases on it," said Fenwick.

Fenwick said the ministry's directive came as the Whistler workers head into a very stressful time of year.

During the winter season, Fenwick said up to 140 people go through the Whistler Health Care Centre every day, including some major traumas.

"We're going into our busiest time of the year... It's very stressful in the winter and to be told that we're not getting the wage increases before the busiest season is like a slap in the face to the staff," said Fenwick.

Cuthbert said there has been no indication when the board will hear back from the ministry.

Health care workers like Fenwick are angry that the unionized workers in the corridor are making more money and yet are doing the same job.

"We generate revenue for the rest of the corridor. We're generating money to support programs in Pemberton and Squamish and we're not getting equal pay," she said.

Unionized workers were granted wage increases in August after a hard-fought battle with the province. Each union worked out a separate deal with the province, with the British Columbia Nurses' Union (BCNU) getting the biggest increase.

Nurses who belong to the BCNU won a 23.5 per cent wage increase over the next three years, on average.

Fenwick said the nurses at the centre are looking for a 50-cent per hour increase that came into effect in April 1, in addition to the $3 increase on Oct. 1.

She is concerned that the current hourly rate difference will make it very difficult to attract and retain health care workers at the Whistler centre.

The Whistler staff has never been a part of their respective unions. Instead they discuss wage and benefit issues under the Workplace Consultation Committee and loosely follow the frameworks of other health care unions.

"How the employees represent and organize themselves is their decision and I think we have to respect that," said Cuthbert.

After the board meeting the CHC assured the staff that they were rigorously lobbying the ministry to reach approval as quickly as possible.

"They do an outstanding job and we do value them," said Cuthbert.

The meeting resulted in an unanimous decision by the board to write a letter to the Ministry of Health, HEABC, PSEC and others involved in the process, urging them to speed up the process. These letters were sent out the following day.

The board also decided that the wage increases would be granted as soon as the ministry approves the funding.

But the health care workers are not willing to wait until then while their unionized counterparts make more money doing the same job.

"We are being discriminated against because we are non-union," said Fenwick.

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