The Northern Health Authority is assuring residents they can still get the care they need in the event that about 1,000 health support workers go on strike this weekend, job action a local union representative says could continue into next week.
Northern Hospital Employees union rep Mary Pat Wiley says the job action could begin today at noon with an overtime ban, “and escalate from there by mid-afternoon.”
“Patients with urgent needs should continue to go to a hospital in their community,” the NHA said in a release Thursday, and consult a family physician for specific health concerns.
Health authority communications director Mark Karjaluoto said Friday the authority is trying to contact patients booked for elective surgeries Monday morning to warn them of possible disruptions in service.
The unions representing the workers issued a 72-hour strike notice Thursday at noon after talks with the Health Employers Association of British Columbia (HEABC), representing the government, broke off Wednesday.
Labour Relations Board mediator Stephen Rinfret, appointed April 15, booked out of negotiations.
Wiley said she isn’t confident the HEABC will ask the unions back to the bargaining table before a full-scale strike of clerical staff, cooks, licensed practical nurses, laundry workers, and other support staff.
“We were disappointed when the HEABC asked for a mediator, because we thought (between 5,000 and 6,000 layoffs in the Lower Mainland) would be put on hold,” she said. “If they are not prepared to do it with a mediator, I have my doubts that they are prepared to do it now.”
No layoffs are scheduled for Prince George, but Wiley says local workers have no choice but to join their colleagues on the picket line if it becomes necessary.
“The Northern Health Authority has worked with us to assure they will not contract jobs out, and find savings in other areas,” she said. “And we’re willing to work with them (again) once a collective agreement is settled.”
The HEABC is looking for $250 million in wage and benefit concessions over a year, and the unions are asking for the same amount in increases over two years, said HEABC president and CEO Louise Simard.
The unions – the HEU and 10 others – said layoffs in the Lower Mainland had to halt during negotiations, and said they are asking for cost of living increases.
The Northern Health Authority advises patients and clients wanting to know about the availability of health services in their community during job action can call the automated information line at 1-866-565-2799.
Further information is available at www.northernhealth.ca, and through the BC NurseLine, 1-866-889-4700 24 hours a day.