Hospital workers strike affects islanders

  • Apr. 28, 2004 2:00 p.m.

This week’s Hospital Employees’ Union strike left at least two islanders in a difficult situation.
Tlell resident Claire Menard was supposed to leave this week for eye surgery in Vancouver. She had to cancel her non-refundable airline ticket, which cost an extra $100.
“It’s not urgent surgery,” she said, “but it should be done quite soon.”
Ms Menard said that her vision is affected, and that her usual reading distance of 14 inches is now down to eight inches.
“I don’t know when they’ll reschedule,” she said. “Hopefully it won’t be too much later.”
Although frustrated by the inconvenience, she said that she sympathizes with the strikers.
“I wouldn’t hold it against the workers,” she said, “it’s the government that’s really at fault, making all these cuts.”
Another islander, Barb Robichaud of Skidegate, had already been waiting four months for her eye surgery when she flew down to Vancouver last week. Upon arrival, she was told that it would be delayed, and tentatively re-booked for May 17.
“But it will probably be bumped back two or three months, because of other surgeries taking priority,” said Ms. Robichaud.
“It’s expensive,” she said, of the travel costs – and despite the travel expense coverage, “you still have to pay extra.” And adding to her frustration, she now has to travel to Abbotsford, which requires more travel planning.
“I wish they’d just settle this thing,” she said.
Meanwhile, members of the Hospital Employees Union on the islands picketed outside the Masset and Queen Charlotte hospitals Monday and Tuesday. Both hospitals were open and operating at essential service levels. The lab and x-ray departments had cut their hours, and the pharmacy had less people than usual working, said Cairns Ives, chair of the union’s Queen Charlotte local.
There are about 50 HEU members on the islands, Mr. Ives said, most of them women. They work in the pharmacy, kitchen, housekeeping, maintenance, medical records, as lab aides and long term care aides.
“the main reason we’re on strike at this point is because the HEABC (the health employers) refuses to put privatization on hold while we negotiate,” Mr. Ives said. “They’ve continued to lay people off by the thousands.”
Most of the privatization is occurring in the Lower Mainland. The Northern Health Authority has already cancelled it contracting out plans.
The employers association wants to decrease wages of all HEU members by 9.5 per cent, and has asked for other concessions like decreased vacation time and a reduction in benefits, Mr. Ives said.