The pandemic has provided a new lens through which to view how health care is delivered in BC, and what is possible to achieve. We must immediately stop contracting out of health care support services. Keeping them public is key to healthier patients and cleaner facilities.


When we hear stories about front-line healthcare workers having to work without appropriate PPE or adequate staffing, it should trouble us and we should fully believe as a province that we can do better. We all should wonder how much longer these intolerable conditions will continue.  

What we have witnessed over the many past months is healthcare workers coming in every day and stepping up, doing what needs to be done without complaining. They have the hardest jobs in the world at the best of times, and through all this, they are providing care to patients who are incredibly sick with this virus. We should feel humbled by both their professionalism and compassion. It should also remind us how lucky we are to have our public health care system.


Since 2003, British Columbia has witnessed the most sweeping privatization of health support services in Canadian history. More than 8,500 public sector jobs were eliminated and the work contracted out. Pay rates for the affected positions have been cut by more than 40 per cent. These front-line health care workers earning less today than they did 20 years ago.  Since privatization, these members of the health care team have been forced to work outside B.C.’s public health care system for private corporations that enjoy handsome profits while paying the lowest of wages to workers.


A privatized health support job in BC is virtually synonymous with poverty. Over 40 per cent of these workers have at least one other job to help make ends meet. These workers deserve decent pay and working conditions.


The privatized jobs in BC hospitals and extended care facilities are substandard in all respects: low pay, meagre benefits, heavy workloads, poor training, and no job security.


The workers who perform these cleaning and food service jobs are usually women with children; many are immigrants of colour who also support family members abroad. They are a vulnerable group with few employment choices.


Our members/workers describe working conditions as a “sweatshop” where it is not humanly possible to complete the work given. Health care facilities are demanding workplaces to start with. Even in the best of circumstances, cleaners and food service workers are lifting, bending, reaching, carrying, and exerting themselves in a constant stream of physical tasks. Clearly, a reasonable pace of work, regular breaks, and support to work safely would be essential to avoid pain and injury.

The workload can only be described as hectic, exhausting, and stressful. Our members deal with unpredictable assignments, frequent interruptions, and routine under-staffing when the company fails to replace absent employees. They often feel too rushed to work safely and take shortcuts that put them at risk for needlestick and other occupational injuries.


Exhaustion, pain, illness, and injury are commonplace. Discomfort goes beyond a reasonable level of after-work fatigue. Soft-tissue pain, numbness, headaches, and other ailments are often experienced by our members.


The global pandemic has taught us that as a society we would do well to acknowledge the worth of the housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers, cleaning and dietary staff who keep our hospitals clean and safe and prepare and deliver meals to the patients in our health care system.


The corporations who employ these workers are foreign owned and are global giants in their field.  They are multinational companies who offer facilities management, food and cleaning services in health care, education, senior care, prisons, and government and industry sites around the world. Together they dominate the industry and employ over 1.2 million employees.


Their profits are 90% based on labour, but with a business ethic of understaffing and poverty wages, skimping on training, supplies, standards and other overhead, they have generated nothing but poor working conditions, complaints and scandal. The repeated pattern of each of these corporations are; similar or even higher costs than publicly operated services, poor quality food, food poisoning, filthy dirty hospitals and extended care facilities, high accident and injury rates, high staff turnover, human rights and labour rights abuses.


The corporations that create these sweatshop conditions believe that an unhappy service worker is easy to replace. Social and economic conditions in Canada create a pool of workers, mainly female and often immigrants of colour, who have no choice but to accept wages and conditions that overtax their bodies and disrupt their families.


The evidence against the privatization of the management of hospital environmental cleaning and food services is very strong. The factors that create overworked, unsupported, underpaid, and transient cleaning staff are also associated with cleanliness problems.


We should learn from the experiences that we have witnessed during the pandemic. British Columbians do not want further illnesses and deaths from hospital-acquired infections, we do not want hospital patients to lose weight because they can’t stomach poor quality food, we do not want the health of ourselves or our family members to deteriorate once we enter a hospital or extended care facility.


British Columbians, like all Canadians, value our health care system and want to protect it. For all its problems, our health care system is a valuable asset that we all want to maintain.


It's time for a change.


The BC NDP made a number of important commitments in the campaign including bringing contracted out hospital housekeeping and dietary workers back under the direct employment of health authorities, continuing to level up the pay of workers in long-term care and assisted living facilities post-pandemic, and re-establishing a provincial standard for wages, benefits and working conditions in this sector.


The B.C. government has committed to making these hospital services public and reuniting the health care team.  It’s the right thing to do – for patients, for workers, for safer hospitals and better care.


USW Local 2009 will continue to work together with other unions like HEU and BCGEU to ensure that commitments made on the BC NDP campaign trail are translated into concrete improvements on the front lines of our health care system.


We urge the government to act on their commitment now. Patients and front-line health care workers can’t afford to wait.




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