Cowichan's health-care workers in mediated talks Thursday

Holding a hefty 96% strike mandate, Cowichan's health-care workers head into mediated talks Thursday with the B.C. Health Employers' Association, a union agent says.

Veteran mediator Vince Ready will try to reach common ground between the province and the 11-union bargaining team after their contract ended March 31.

Main issues at the table are job security, benefits protection, health and safety, plus changes to the ambulance service.

Talks concern care aides, ambulance paramedics, health-records staff, lab and other diagnostic specialists, sterile-supply techs, emergency dispatchers, nursing-unit clerks, trades and maintenance workers, activity aides and rehab assistants, IT specialists, pharmacy techs, admitting and booking clerks, administrative staff, cleaning and dietary staff, and many others.

Negotiations started Jan. 14, but crumbled in late March.

The 11-union Facilities Bargaining Association includes Cowichan District Hospital and Cairnsmore lodge staffers.

Union involved include the Health Employees Union, CUPE Local 873, the B.C. Government Service Employees' Union, and two locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers

Union brass fear the employers' refusal to extend employment security provisions, a move that could open health care to further privatization and put jobs risk, HEU's Mike Old's has stated.

The expired contract protected services from contracting out.

It was renegotiated into a 2012 agreement after being pulled by legislation 10 years earlier, noted Old.

The Supreme Court of Canada later ruled that law unconstitutional.

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