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Health care workers ratify five-year contract

Unionized health care workers have ratified a new five-year contract that brings B.C. closer to long-term labour peace in hospitals and care homes.

The collective agreement reached earlier this month with 11 unions averted a possible strike by 47,000 health support workers, most of them represented by the Hospital Employees Union. It was approved by a 64.6 per cent vote in favour.

The deal provides wage hikes of 5.5 per cent over five years and includes a cap on contracting out of 500 full-time equivalent positions.

It also covers ambulance paramedics, with specific provisions related to their issues.

HEU secretary-business manager Bonnie Pearson said the agreement provides some stability and certainty in a sector that's been racked by privatization and restructuring.

Union members had voted 96 per cent in favour of strike action in May.

The agreement is within the limits of the province's economic stability mandate, meaning health workers are eligible for further pay hikes if the province's economy does better than forecast.

"This agreement helps ensure sustainability, both in costs and service delivery," said Michael Marchbank, president of the Health Employers Association of B.C.

He said it also further integrates emergency health services into the broader health care system and paves the way for the province-wide implementation of a paramedicine program.

The province now has similar long-term deals with 75,000 unionized health care workers. Negotiations continue with nurses as well as physician residents.

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