Solid in a fluid kind of way

Back in June, Campbell administration - in partnership with the province's private care providers - launched an initiative encouraging students to become residential care aides and home support workers in the Fraser Health Region. One of the incentives: a "solid salary" in an industry where "hourly rates range between $17.68 and $19.33 per hour" according to the BC Cares Website - but not the Hospital Employees' Union. On Tuesday, the union distributed a news release stating, "contracting out has pushed wages much lower than this in many long-term care facilities. In fact, approximately 700 care aides at six of these facilities are currently facing termination after attempting to bring their wages up to levels promised on the website. At Inglewood Care Centre, for example, care aides will be laid off on September 30 after joining a union and achieving a first collective agreement that increased current wages to $16.55." Oops. Which is why the Website's text now reads: "As of July 2007, hourly rates reached a maximum of $19.33 per hour." Explained health communications director Marisa Adair, "There was an error in what was up there. And we corrected it."

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“This year, we’re investing $1.68 million in 213 new student spaces for residential care aides and home support workers to ensure that students interested in this area as a career have access to the training they need to be successful” said BC's Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell.

What sane person would invest the time and money to take these courses when employers regularly fire their staff using the arbitrary and illegal provisions of Bill 29?

While the above mentioned HEU news release talks about the current 700 care aides at six facilities - it does not reflect the thousands of caring professionals at dozens of work sites who have had their lives turned to chaos by the mean spirited and unlawful Bill 29.

What wasn't said in any news release, but was mentioned during the press conference is that the ministry plans to bring in foreign workers to fill the 700+ care aide & home support positions if the ministry cannot fill the positions with Canadians.

In Vernon last year a private contractor fired all the unionized care aides, then claimed there were no qualified Canadians to do the job. Neither the provincial nor federal governments batted an eye or lifted a finger as the private contractor brought in foreign workers to do the work as they all seemed to agree that there were no qualified Canadians to do the work!

It looks to me that Coell is providing a smoke screen that private contractors can hide behind - funding for only 213 spaces when 700+ workers are needed in the Fraser Valley alone?

" ... the ministry plans to bring in foreign workers to fill the 700+ care aide & home support positions if the ministry cannot fill the positions with Canadians."

The rising demand from employers public and private for lower skilled foreign workers is a issue of rising importance. It's effects are seen in agriculture and construction and there are demands too from the food and accommodation sectors as well. These employers are organized and are vigorous lobbyists.

The key issue is wages. What wage rate should an employer pay a temporary foreign worker in a given job so as not be exercising any downward pressure on prevailing wages in Canada? Note that this criteria is quite different than simply asserting that the foreign worker is making more here than they would in their home country. In some industries that question can be complicated further by the differences in union and non-union wages. What is more, there is no general up-to-date survey of all wages rates, and although larger occupations can be found from the StatCan Labour Force sample household survey, computing an average for many smaller occupations is often difficult.

But the biggest issue of all is enforcement. Once here, the federal authorities do not enforce the conditions the employer supposedly agreed to. If a worker was promised $12 an hour and is being paid $8 per hour, that's their problem. If they are being paid less than the minimum wage, they can complain to the provincial employment standards branch, but the Govt of Canada is not interested.

This ought to make for good fodder when the Campbellites finally sit down with BC's health care unions who have a recent Supreme Court ruling on their side.

Let's hope the unions can work together to expose the lies and scams of this administration in dealing with health care workers over the past six years.

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