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Lions Gate food workers 'welcomed back' as provincial employees

“For this day, we have been waiting for a very long time," said one kitchen worker.
Paula Mann Food Service Worker Lions Gate April 2020 web
Lions Gate Hospital food services worker Paula Mann, seen outside the hospital in April 2020, is welcoming the return of her job to the public service.

This story has been updated to correct a quote.

The next meal you or a loved one eats in Lions Gate Hospital will have been made by a public servant.

The province announced Friday (July 22) that 283 food service workers from Lions Gate and six long-term care homes on the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Powell River and Squamish were being “welcomed back” as public employees.

Under the previous B.C. Liberal government, the work had been outsourced to private companies. That resulted in staff’s wages and benefits being cut, and, every few years in some cases, the contracts would be “flipped” to a new company, forcing the employees to reapply for their jobs and have their salaries reset back to the base rate.

While working for Sodexo, the most recent company to hold the contract at Lions Gate, food service workers were earning about $17 per hour, according to the province. That will jump to $20.97 with improved benefits and a pension.

Food services worker and Hospital Employees Union member Paula Mann, said she remembers the day when she was told her job in the Lions Gate Hospital was being privatized 18 years ago.

“Obviously, we were pretty upset at that point. We used to make $18 working in the kitchen here and all of a sudden, it dropped to $10. It was a huge. It's almost a 50-per-cent drop,” she said. “And the rest of the things – buying groceries or anything was continuously going up. So it was a big factor to the people.”

Having the province as an employer will mean less stress and anxiety about job security, Mann added.

“You were always worried about God knows what's going to happen next, after 18 years' struggling,” she said. “For this day, we have been waiting for a very long time.... The feeling is much better. People are very, very, very excited.”

In 2019, the NDP passed Bill 47, which sought to undo the privatization and bring 4,000 workers back into the public system.

Housekeeping staff at Vancouver Coastal Health’s North Shore facilities are scheduled to be repatriated this fall. Other hospitals and care homes have already been phased into the new model.

The food and housekeeping work is often done by immigrant women. Becoming public employees will be “really life changing,” for that segment of society, said Caelie Frampton, communications director for the Hospital Employees Union.

“It’s been really great to hear back from people about the impact this has had on their lives. We heard from one woman who was able to go the dentist,” she said. “She hadn’t been able to access the type of dental care that she needed.”

The change will benefit patients too, Frampton added.

“Cleaners and dietary workers are really critical to the health-care system. They make sure that our patients are safe, and they’re getting really quality care while they’re in the hospital,” she said.

The end of contract flipping was welcomed by Bowinn Ma and Susie Chant, North Vancouver’s two NDP MLAs, in a release.

"All workers deserve stable employment that treats them with dignity and respect,” Ma said. “I am so gratified to see that terrible injustice now be corrected."

“Our government is committed to building a strong public health-care system that cares for patients and treats all its workers with the respect they deserve. Repatriating workers is not only good policy, it’s also the right thing to do." Chant added.

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