After several weeks of relatively dull legislative activity following the September 1 Budget Update, the government made a substantive move in the Legislature on Monday, November 2, introducing Bill 21 – the Ambulance Services Collective Agreement Act.
While the BC Liberals have introduced other regressive labour legislation before, Bill 21 marks yet another shameful precedent – this is the first time in Canada, a government has imposed a collective agreement while a union is in the middle of voting on an offer from that same government.
CUPE 873, representing BC’s 3,500 Ambulance paramedics, has been on strike since April 1. They took the employer’s September 28 contract offer to a vote, the results of which were due tomorrow.
Instead of waiting for those results the government chose to render the votes cast by our members irrelevant by forcing Bill 21 through the legislature. While every MLA has the right to speak to any piece of legislation, the only BC Liberal who has spoken to Bill 21 is Kevin Falcon, who as Health Services minister is responsible for the legislation – and he spoke for less than ten minutes.
Not surprisingly, the Minister relied on public hysteria and claimed the H1N1 pandemic was behind the legislation – never mind that the government hasn’t provided rural paramedics access to the vaccine. In fact, CUPE has learned that VANOC was the driving force behind the legislation: a memo written in September from VANOC to the BC Ambulance Service demanded a guarantee of ambulance services, “through either settlement or legislated ‘détente’ for the 2010 Olympic Games.
With 200,000 public sector employees entering into contract negotiations in 2010, this certainly sends a strong message – if you stand up to this government at the bargaining table, beware the legislative hammer!
Opposition MLAs have been lining up to speak to the legislation, following the lead of BCNDP Labour Critic Raj Chouhan and Health Services Critic Adrian Dix, in what is known as a filibuster (talking out a bill). The only other parliamentary procedure available to the Opposition Caucus is a motion to “hoist” the legislation – to postpone debate and therefore passage of the legislation by six months.
We anticipate that the BC NDP Caucus will exercise all options available to them to obstruct passage of this legislation, but that the majority BC Liberal government will also exercise the tools available to them to ensure this bill passes through the legislature and is enacted by the end of this week.
Please take a moment to send an email to your MLA and urge them to vote against Bill 21: contact information can be found at www.leg.bc.ca. If you have a personal story to tell about the value of the BC Ambulance Service and the work of CUPE 873 members, please share it with your MLA.
Despite the efforts of the opposition, we expect that Bill 21 will become law on Friday, November 6. To mark the occasion, CUPE BC is organizing a protest at 11:30 am at 3583 Graveley Street in Vancouver – the offices of the Vancouver Olympic Committee.
This Legislative Update:
A strike-breaking, charter-rights-denying legislative trivia question:
When did the BC Government last impose a contract through legislation, and what was the title and number of the bill?
Remember: the first correct answer e-mailed to email@example.com wins a prize from the CUPE BC boutique.
NOTE: In order to win, you must BOTH correctly answer the question AND forward a copy of an email you sent to your MLA about Bill 21.
For printable version of this document click here.