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  • Volume Eight, Number Seven: October 2003

    Unions to Appeal BC Supreme Court judgment on Contract-Breaking Law

    Health care unions representing nearly 100,000 front-line workers say they intend to appeal a BC Supreme Court judgment handed down last week that dismisses their constitutional challenge to provincial contract-breaking legislation.

    BC's health authorities have used the provisions of Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Act, to close 50 health facilities across BC, cut services and radically expand the role of private corporations in the public health care system.

    As a result, more than 9,000 front-line workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of next year.

    Leaders of the three unions coordinating the legal challenge, the Hospital Employees' Union, the BC Government and Service Employees' Union and the BC Nurses' Union, expressed disappointment at the ruling by Madame Justice Nicole Garson but say they are committed to a long-term legal strategy to strike down the legislation.

    "The BC Liberals and their health authorities have used Bill 29 to wreak havoc on health care and to exact an unconscionable economic and emotional toll on thousands of front-line workers," says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. "Bill 29 represents a fundamental attack on the rights of workers and we plan to defend those rights all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary."

    BCGEU president George Heyman says that there are important principles at stake in the unions' constitutional challenge that should be heard in a higher court.

    "At its core, this case is about the value of freely negotiated collective agreements under Canadian law," says Heyman. "Bill 29 poses a threat to the rights of every union member, not just in this province, but across the entire country. That's why we intend to take our case to the B.C Court of Appeal."

    BCNU president Debra McPherson says Bill 29's impact on the working lives and economic position of women - who make up the vast majority of health care workers - has been especially damaging.

    "This legislation attacks the most fundamental rights of women workers to belong to unions, to work in good jobs and to do so without being discriminated against," says McPherson. "For nurses, Bill 29 means the loss of training, it means restrictions on their ability to move into new jobs, and it allows health authorities to move them from worksite to worksite without their agreement, with no regard for professional expertise or the impact this has on their families."

    The unions' case was launched in March, 2002 and argued in BC Supreme Court by noted Victoria constitutional lawyer Joe Arvay in April of this year.

    Arvay argued that Bill 29 violates rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in particular those sections relating to liberty and security of the person, freedom of association and equality rights.

    Prior to the last election, Premier Campbell pledged to respect health care workers' signed collective agreements. But in January 2002, his government passed Bill 29. The draconian legislation eliminated key long-standing contract provisions like protections against contracting out, seniority rights and labour adjustment programs.

    The International Labour Organization strongly criticized the Campbell government earlier this year for trampling on the rights of trade union members through Bill 29.

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