When the provincial government stepped up last week to protect employees from contract flipping, it left out a group.
We now see the Central Okanagan's garbage workers should have been added to the list of employees who needed protection.
In proposed Labour Relations Code amendments, successor rights were granted to unionized workers in building cleaning/janitorial services, security services, bus transportation, non-clinical services in the health-care sector and food
With successor rights, workers can keep their pay and conditions even if their employer changes — or the contract flips.
Contract flipping happens when a business or government has already contracted out a portion of its work, like janitorial work or garbage pickup, then selects a new bidder when the contract comes up for renewal.
Usually, the new company has made lower bid and must cut pay and working conditions to make money. If existing employees want to keep their jobs, they have to take cuts.
This pattern was especially common in the care-home sector under the previous provincial government.
New management would come along, fire the workers and offer jobs at greatly reduced pay. If a union contract was in place, it was allowed to be thrown out.
“In health care, the practice of contract-flipping has resulted in entire care teams being fired from nursing homes. Workers may be invited to reapply for the same job with a new contractor but usually at a lower rate of pay, and with the loss of their union and any benefits related to the length of their service. In some cases, workers have been subject to multiple contract flips,” the Hospital Employees Union explained in a recent news release.
Food workers at the Vancouver airport were similarly threatened by contract flipping. The government reportedly added food services to the protected list at the last minute.
Local workers with OK Environmental Waste Systems, which recently lost the garbage-recycling-yard waste pickup contract, have been told by the new contractor, Environmental 360 Solutions, they'll have to take a $4.50 an hour pay cut.
Although garbage pickup is a local government service, local leaders pass the buck when it comes to taking responsibility — just like the companies that contract out parts of their operations.
We’re not responsible, they say. The contractor did it.
As one city official explained: “In general terms, when contractors change, they may choose to bring over all of the existing contractor's staff, some of the staff, or bring in new workers. It’s really up to them to sort that out.”
In other words: not our problem.
Our elected leaders have been silent as well. And yet, they are ultimately responsible. The buck stops with them.
The province stepped up because contract flipping is unfair to employees.
As the province did with road maintenance contracts, local governments could have included conditions that employees be kept on at the same rates.
In the Okanagan, Spanish firm Acciona, which took over highways maintenance on May 1, was required to keep Argo’s 75 unionized employees at their existing rates. Same with any other highway contracts that changed hands.
The government explained in a release: “The ministry’s maintenance contract includes succession language stating that any employer that is awarded one of B.C.'s maintenance contracts must employ the unionized work force in that service area and must honour its existing collective agreement.”
It wasn’t a law at the time, just the government doing the right thing.
Our local governments should have done right by their workers, too.