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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    BC Rallies to Save Public Health Care

    The corporate media may not be reporting it, but the Liberal government’s health care privatization moves are not going unnoticed or unopposed.

    Rallies at facilities hit by contracting out, privatization or closure are becoming commonplace across the province as the public, according to recent polls, gives increasing thumbs-down to private for-profit health services.

    Public opposition is growing to the recently announced firing of 950 health facility housekeepers by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the farming out of their services to the Aramark Corporation, another US-based multi-national firm. That has labour and consumer groups warning of a decline in cleanliness and safety standards, just like what has happened, they charge, in other jurisdictions where this type of privatization has happened.

    “Housekeepers are a critical part of infection control measures to ensure that patients have a safe, germ free environment in hospitals,” says HEU spokesperson Zorica Bosancic. “This latest privatization move will put patients at risk and will prove more costly over the long run,” she warns.

    “Hundreds of skilled and experienced workers are expecting to get their pinks slips soon and will be fired starting early in the fall,” she says. “They'll be replaced by a low wage workforce that will lack the skills and knowledge essential to maintaining a germ-free environment.”

    Other jurisdictions like the United Kingdom have already paid a high price when they experimented with privatized support services like housekeeping, says Bosancic. “Cleaning and infection control standards declined scandalously because of privatization, and patients died as a result.”

    Similar concerns around declining security standards at St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, as over 90 security guards have lost their jobs to a minimum wage for-profit outfit based in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, New Westminster residents are continuing their pressure campaign on the provincial government as it still is fixed on closing the entire facility.

    In addition, Burnaby City Council stepped into the battle fray earlier this month to support workers and patient groups in their fight to keep the seniors’ Willingdon Park Lodge opened and in public hands. They recently presented a 10,000-name petition of Burnaby residents demanding that all contracting out be terminated.

    “What's happening at Willingdon Park hospital is wrong. It's putting profit ahead of people,” said Sarjit Dhillon, who has worked at the hospital for 23 years. “We ask that you support us as we fight for our seniors and for decently paid, community-supporting jobs.”

    West Vancouver has been the unlikely scene of public protests, as health care workers and patients and relatives have been staging public events and rallies to save the 200 senior patients and 170 caregivers at Inglewood Lodge and Capilano Care Centre.

    Outside the lower mainland, opposition appears to be even more intense, as smaller communities rally around the saving of local health facilities and their better paying, mostly union, jobs.

    Using the slogan, “Not a Penny for Profit,” health care workers at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox, on Vancouver Island, have staged a series of afternoon rush-hour rallies over the past three weeks, circulated petitions and voiced their opposition to contracting out in the local media and other forums.

    “Support has been tremendous,” says employee Bonnie Mcglashan. “People are eager to sign the petition.”

    Meanwhile, in Victoria, Salvation Army management has been accused of being in bed with the BC Liberal regime and abandoning its Social Gospel philosophy as the battle over the future of the Sunset Lodge heats up.

    The recent mass firings of caregivers to farm out their jobs to a multi-national firm have sparked a province-wide Appeal for Justice campaign.

    “These workers have been waging a remarkable fight-back against an employer that hides behind its public mission to help the poor, while throwing women into poverty,” said HEU secretary business-manager Chris Allnutt. “By supporting the Appeal for Justice campaign we have an opportunity to expose the Sally Ann's hypocrisy as well as pressure their top leadership into re-evaluating the kind of exploitative labour practices that have disrupted the lives of Sunset Lodge workers and residents.”

    Residents of Revelstoke, in central BC, are insisting the Moberly Manor seniors center remain open and in public hands with its union staff intact. A march earlier this month organized by local senior citizens drew over 500 people, the largest such gathering in the town’s history

    “The people of Revelstoke built Moberly Manor,” says Margaret McMahon, march organizer and a member of Revelstoke Senior Citizens' Association. “We planned it, lobbied government and raised the money. The B.C. Liberals never put one nail in that building and now they want to take it away from us.”

    Last spring when the Interior Health Authority announced the closure of the facility, they gave the elderly residents 30-days' notice to find somewhere else to live. In an unprecedented act of community solidarity, over 400 townspeople encircled the facility and physically barred management from moving anyone.

    The IHA backed down and granted a reprieve. But rallies continue to keep the facility open.

    “Your actions over a year ago, to blockade the Moberly Manor to make sure the government did not close the facility and evict people from their homes, has continued to serve as an inspiration for all social activists in the province,” said HEU president Fred Muzin in a letter of support sent to the Revelstoke seniors in advance of the march.

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