Issue of levelling holding up talks at paramedical table

The Report: July / August 1998 vol.19 num.1

A major hurdle at the paramedical professional bargainingtable is the issue of levelling. For months, members of the bargaining committee have beentrying to get the employer to address levelling issues left over from the 1996negotiations.

"Its critical that the employer address the issue oflevelling in a meaningful way so we can move on to other key issues at the bargainingtable," HSA negotiator, Rick Lampshire said. "A fair wage increase, the issue ofon-call, LTD, hours of work, classifications and provincial seniority are all areas whereHSA members expect to see progress."

Levelling is significant for all paramedical professionals becausethose who work in community-based facilities have historically received lower wages andbenefits. Many of these workers are represented by other unions. HSA and the joint unionbargaining committee want to ensure the employer doesnt use this discrepancy as anopportunity to drag down wages and benefits for all paramedical professionals.

Another significant problem in the levelling process is theemployers attempts to alter the HSA classification system. On July 17, HSA will takethe first of the disputed positions before Arbitrator Munroe and request a decisionconsistent with the parties collective agreement.

Because there are limited funds available in this round ofnegotiations, HSA is pushing the employer to conclude levelling fairly and early and moveon to the other important issues that affect the 9,000 HSA members represented at thistable.

One of the most critical issues in this round of bargaining is our LongTerm Disability Plan. HSA negotiators met recently with representatives from both the HSATrust and the Health Benefits Trust to discuss the transfer of the plan back to the HBT."After ten years of administering our own plan, we feel its time to return tothe plan that covers other workers in the health care system," explains Lampshire."HSA simply doesnt have the economies of scale to keep the plan affordable andsustainable for the future."

Under the HBT, the employer contributes to the plan and benefits arenegotiated through collective bargaining. Members currently covered by the HSA Trust wouldcontinue to receive their benefits from the HSA Trust while new claimants would be coveredby the HBT.

During the last two weeks of July both the HSA caucus and theparamedical professional bargaining association as a whole will meet to review ourbargaining proposals and the impact of the recent agreements reached in other sectors.Negotiations with HEABC will resume at the end of August or in early September.

In the health service and support community subsector,significant progress has been made on non-monetary items such OH&S improvements.However, the bargaining association is continuing to push the government to make good onits promise of wage and benefit parity with the facilities sector. "Imconfident we are getting close to an agreement," said HSA negotiator, Dawn Adamson."But to overcome the final hurdle, the employer and government must send a strongsignal that low-paid workers in this sector deserve better."

In early June, employees in the subsector voted 81 per cent in favourof strike action if necessary to back their demands for wage and benefit parity. However,Adamson says that meaningful negotiations have taken place and to date, the bargainingassociation has not been forced to issue strike notice.

At the nursing table, HSA and BCNU have recentlycompleted two days with Umpire John Baigent to adjudicate on issues related to fair accessto work. In March, HSA tabled with the BCNU, our priority proposals concerning the dualposting of nursing jobs tied to the merging of RN/RPN seniority lists, both of which willgive RPNs better access to jobs. HSA negotiator Maureen Whelan says the two unions arecontinuing discussions to settle any outstanding issues and hope to have a quickresolution.

Casualization was the main issue at the nursing bargaining table duringthe week of July 6. For nurses, the number of casual hours has climbed five per centduring the last five years while the number of hours worked by full-time employees hasplummeted by eight per cent. This is particularly significant for Registered PsychiatricNurses in HSA, 45 per cent of whom are casual employees.

To address this concern, HEABC is agreeing to establish float pools ofregular employees to provide vacation and sick leave relief where this is cost-effective.However, employers have rejected a union proposal for the conversion of casual positionsto regular positions wherever the work can be proved to be of an on-going nature.

As an additional solution to this growing level of casualization, theunions in the Nursing Bargaining Association are arguing that casuals who post intoproject work, vacation relief, or relief for maternity, WCB or LTD leave receive thestatus and benefits of regular employees for the duration of the temporary posting. Thiswas one of the priorities put forward by HSA, as this is a provision already enjoyed byRPNs covered by the HSA contract. HEABC is prepared to agree to give regular status tocasuals filling temporary vacation relief and the project positions, but not for thosefilling maternity, LTD or WCB relief positions.