More than 200 people marched through snow and slush Sunday to protest the impending layoffs at the New Horizons care home.
“There’s no respect…there needs to be a change,” said Campbell River city councillor Larry Samson. “If we don’t stand up it’s only going to get worse. We need to stand up as a community and a province.”
On Dec. 30, the 120 employees at New Horizons – all members of the Health Employees’ Union (HEU) – were handed surprise layoff notices by the ownership group, Park Place Seniors Living of Vancouver.
Their last day on the job at the 94-bed facility is April 30. The employees have been told they can reapply for their old jobs, and have the first right of refusal, but it’s expected those who do return will receive lower wages, fewer benefits and will lose seniority.
“Your actions and treatment of employees is something that happens in third world countries, not Canada,” said Lois Jarvis of Campbell River’s Citizens For Quality Health Care.
The protest rally started at a packed Spirit Square with speeches from Samson, Jarvis, North Island MLA Claire Trevena, BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair and HEU secretary Bonnie Pearson who said the provincial government is “commodifying human services.”
“This is not the first mass layoff in seniors care,” said Pearson, who noted that Park Place is doing the same thing at a 160-bed home in Duncan which it recently bought. “Contract flipping is rampant in this province. It’s not about providing care and it’s obviously not about improving care. Rather, it’s about private owners ducking their responsibilities to the seniors who need the care and the workers who provide it.
“This is not about workers making too much money. It’s about Park Place and others not making enough money!”
Following the speeches, the growing group marched through the snowy streets to New Horizons on 14th Avenue. They stood on the south side of the building, chanted slogans against the owners, heard more speeches, and waved to staff and residents who watched from the windows above.
“This (Liberal) government puts profits ahead of people and that is so wrong,” said Trevena during her speech at Spirit Square. “They have no respect for the rule of law. They have no respect for workers’ rights. They have no respect for trade unions and that is wrong.”
The HEU is hoping to start a province-wide movement to protest more re-contracting and Samson said municipal governments should lobby the Health Minister or, he suggested, the Union of BC Municipalities should protest the government’s policy.
But this protest isn’t just about jobs, said Jarvis, who said residents will also be negatively affected by the workforce turnover.
“Quality of life for sick or elderly people demands the best-qualified, most-dedicated staff available. That’s what they have currently at New Horizons and that’s the way it should stay.”