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Port Arthur health workers strike over precarious and low wage work

April 9, 2018

Thunder Bay – At midnight workers at the Port Arthur Health Centre, represented by Unifor Local 229, set up picket lines to send the employer a message – it’s time to end precarious work and insufficient wages.

“The frustrating thing about bargaining talks with this unreasonable employer is that the employer is not arguing that they do not have the ability to pay, but rather that it’s seeking to fill the coffers,” said Kari Jefford, President of Unifor Local 229. “The situation is just shameful; as care providers, one would think the Port Arthur Health Centre would be more respectful and offer fairness to these hard working employees.”

Unifor Local 229 represents the 65 workers at the Centre, working as appointment secretaries, medical aides and in medical records. The collective agreement expired on December 31, 2017. The union’s bargaining committee said no progress has been made on key issues of precarious work contracts or insufficient compensation for work.

With the Ontario minimum wage hike in January the wages for many employees were surpassed, reflecting the inadequate compensation the workers currently receive. Although there are enough hours available to employ workers full time, over 60% of the 65 women who work there are casual workers, meaning that they have no guarantee of hours of work from week to week. This precarious work situation also means that many workers work multiple jobs to try and piece together a living wage.

“There are more than enough hours to make scheduled rotations, but it hasn’t happened,” said Andy Savela, the Director of Health Care at Unifor. The barrier to secure employment appears to be an unwillingness from the employer to give up profits, as this form of casual work helps keep operating costs low, albeit at the expense of workers’ well-being.

Unifor said the employer is acting aggressively towards the union and has even applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in an attempt to force a vote on their last offer. Currently, there are no dates scheduled for negotiations with the employer, however the union stated it is willing to negotiate to seek a fair resolution.

For more information, please contact Asma Farooq, National Communications Representative at asma.farooq@unifor.org or 647-327-9371 (cell).