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Whistler health care workers get raise



Workers at the Whistler Health Care Centre were given good news this week, after their employer opted to give them pay increases similar to what their unionized counterparts received months ago.

"The board decided unanimously to provide a pay increase so that we are paying a similar wage to the rest of the market facilities," said Brian Kines, the chief executive officer for the Sea to Sky Community Health Council.

The health care workers have been battling for the increase ever since unionized health care workers across the province reached a deal for incremental pay hikes earlier this year.

"We're really excited about it. It's too bad we had to jump through all those hoops," said Anne Fenwick, a registered nurse and representative on the Workplace Consultation Committee.

Previously the community health council told staff at the centre that they had been directed by the Ministry of Health not to give any wage increases for non-unionized staff before first being approved by the ministry. The Whistler workers asked the board to reconsider this directive and to enter into a short-term contract that would give them their pay hikes.

"After further dialogue with the ministry we recognized that it was the appropriate thing to do," said Kines.

Fenwick credits the determination of the staff at the centre for the favourable decision.

"If we hadn't pushed, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere," she said. "Our perseverance and media coverage forced them into this decision."

The board decided to pay the increases retroactive to April 1, 2001 continuing to March 31, 2002. Kines said the CHC has a surplus to cover those demands, with the expectation that the ministry will cover the costs later on.

"We know we can afford those increases for this fiscal year. We will be sitting down and establishing a process for further negotiations for a subsequent agreement," said Kines.

However, the health care system is in a state of flux at the moment and will be vastly different when the time comes to negotiate a new contract.

Sindi Hawkins, the health planning minister, recently announced that the province's 52 health authorities will be eliminated and replaced by five centralized authorities: Northern, Interior, Vancouver-coastal, Fraser and Vancouver Island.

In a press release this week, Hawkins said the changes reflect the Liberal government' s commitment to renew the province's public health care system.

"Creating fewer, more accountable health authorities is only one in a series of changes, but it will help minimize the duplication of administrative services that are adding confusion and costs to health-care delivery in this province," she said.

The new Vancouver Coastal Health Authority will combine the former Vancouver, Richmond and North Shore health regions with the Coast Garibaldi Community Health Services Society and three community health councils: Powell River, Sea to Sky and Sunshine Coast.

"Hopefully, whoever our new bosses are, they will realize that just because we're non-union doesn't mean we're not worth any less," said Fenwick.

In the meantime, Kines said the new increases would be implemented as quickly as possible.

He said he was very pleased that the issue has been resolved with the Whistler health care workers.

"We were certainly very concerned that we would be able to pay fair market for the staff. We are very pleased with the quality and commitment of the staff," said Kines.

The Whistler health care workers have never been a part of their respective unions, choosing instead to discuss wage and benefit issues under the Workplace Consultation Committee.

"It's their right to chose whether they want to be represented by a trade association. It's an employee's decision," said Kines.