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B.C. ending contracts for health care housekeeping, food services

Reverses contracting out of services by B.C. Liberals in 2003
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan speak at the B.C. legislature, Aug. 23, 2021. Ending contracted out food and cleaning services in health care was an NDP election promise in 2020. (B.C. government photo)

Flanked by executives of the Hospital Employees Union, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Labour Minister Harry Bains announced Monday the government is ending contracted housekeeping and food services in the health care system, starting next year.

The 21 existing contracts with private sector providers will mostly expire by March 2022, and the employees will return to direct employment by B.C.’s regional health authorities, Dix said Aug. 30. He said the change restores pensions and ends “decades of injustice” for people who have worked through the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when the province is trying to recruit more people to work in the system.

“Today is a long time coming,” Bains said. “It’s almost 20 years now since health care workers had their rights stripped from them. That system treated them as second-class citizens.”

Joining them for the announcement were Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside and former mental health minister Judy Darcy, both former HEU heads, and current secretary-business manager Meena Brisard.

Brisard said most of the people who were laid off in the transition 18 years ago were rehired by contractors, at greatly reduced wages and benefits.

The health ministry will serve notice this fall to end the contracts, in a “phased approach to repatriating housekeeping and food-service contracts,” improving wages and job security for 4,000 positions, the ministry said in a statement. “By promoting a stable and effective workforce, government will be better positioned to offer attractive jobs options to people interested in joining the workforce.”

Catalina Samson, a dietary aide at Vancouver General Hospital, said she is nearing retirement, and still not making as much as she did when her job was contracted out in 2004 and she lost her pension and other benefits. Her wage went from $18 an hour to less than $11, Samson said.

Companies with housekeeping and food services contracts in B.C. health care include Compass, Acciona, Sodexo, Aramark and SerVantage.

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