Tuesday June 12, 2007
Let's compensate our health workers
By BILL TIELEMAN
But even by his own steamroller standards, Premier Campbell violated a basic covenant on the weekend by forcibly rewriting legal, negotiated contracts that were still in force. If he is not prepared to respect so basic a legal agreement, what other contracts is he prepared to rip up? This is not reform. It is legislative vandalism.
Canada's highest court has ruled that Premier Gordon Campbell's "legislative vandalism" is illegal.
On Friday the Supreme Court of Canada looked at B.C. Liberal legislation that ripped up freely negotiated, legal collective agreements and rejected it.
It is a stunning and welcome repudiation of reprehensible actions that took away the jobs of about 8,000 health-care workers through privatization.
Those same workers, who were so terribly mistreated, should now be compensated by the Campbell government.
Most of those workers were Hospital Employees' Union members and just before the 2001 election Campbell blatantly lied to them to get their votes.
"First of all, I don't believe in ripping up agreements ... I have never said I would tear up agreements," Campbell told the HEU Guardian newspaper.
Then he did exactly that in January 2002.
Perhaps the most despicable thing was that the workers affected were mostly women, many of them immigrants who fled repressive countries where undemocratic governments had no respect for the rule of law.
These employees had bought homes and cars, signed mortgages and loans on the basis that they had secure work.
Then they discovered a deceitful government could take away their jobs and even worse, rescind their legal contracts.
Campbell and his MLAs, with one exception, should hang their heads in shame. The exception is Blair Lekstrom, the Peace River South Liberal MLA who joined NDP MLAs Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan in voting against Bill 29.
Governments are always wrong when they become bullies and break their word - and the law.
A previous New Democrat government learned that the hard way too. When it cancelled a freely negotiated agreement with Carrier Lumber, the B.C. Supreme Court intervened, awarding $150 million to the company.
Ironically, the B.C. Liberals have actually strengthened the role of unions across Canada by forcing the Supreme Court to entrench labour rights in law.
"The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Louis LeBel wrote in the 6-1 majority decision.
Now the B.C. Liberal government must pay the price for illegal legislation they wrongly forced on health-care workers.