Seeking answers on BC social care wage inequality

Apr 5, 2019 | 41-4, Blog, Governance, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

Wage inequality is an important issue for British Columbians. We often think of this issue as being a 1%/99% issue. But what about in the same workplace?

This week the official opposition has been asking questions about contracts and a decision to offer low-wage redress to unionized social-care workers and not offer the same redress to non-unionized workers. Essentially creating a situation where workers working alongside each other, doing exactly the same work, are facing wage inequality.

The problem with Question Period is that it quickly devolves into a firestorm of allegations and vitriol, rather than a place that British Columbians can get good answers to good questions. These are legitimate questions.

Nobody disagrees with low-wage redress, but applying it to some workers and not others is creating big problems. I asked Minister Simpson whether he was going to rectify this situation and he could not help himself but attack the failures of the last “16 years” of BC Liberal decisions.

I agree Minister, it was not good. That is why you are a Minister. But the decision to not balance the low-wage redress for all workers was a decision made by this government and can only be fixed by this government. So, will this government fix it?


A. Olsen:

Question period has been a mess this week. The official opposition has been asking important questions but, unfortunately, conflating two issues. The responses have been tragic, and the ministers are falling back on the “16 years” narrative, which is getting pretty tired. So let me try.

A number of weeks ago my colleague from Oak Bay–Gordon Head raised an important question about how the procurement process had changed at Work B.C. We were worried about the impact that it could be having on the non-profits doing excellent work in our province. We now have learned that two multinational corporations took 22 percent of the money for Work B.C. employment training contracts. That does not seem to fit the “balance” the minister said he’d found.

The issue is the open procurement method, treating companies and non-profits exactly the same despite the vast differences in how they operate and their connection to the local community.

The official opposition has been raising legitimate questions these past few days on how our community social service sector feels under attack by a series of changes that this government has introduced.

My question is to the Minister of Social Services and Poverty Reduction, and I’m taking this directly from a recent quote from the executive director of Board Voice. Do we have any proof that an open procurement method is the best way to select vital social care services to our citizens?

Hon. S. Simpson:

Thank you to the member for the question.
The procurement process…. Let me first step back and talk a bit about Work B.C., and then I’ll respond to the question — the procurement piece.

We know that what’s been going on in the province…. We’ve had the lowest unemployment rates in British Columbia for 19 months, the lowest rates across the country.

Mr. Speaker:

Members. Minister, we’ll try this once more.

Hon. S. Simpson:

The challenge with this, though, is that while lots of people, the majority of people, in the province have benefited, there are groups who have not realized that benefit — persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, single moms escaping violence and others. So we’ve restructured the Work B.C. program to more clearly focus on supports over the coming years with those folks.

The new process, which came into place April 1…. We’re working closely with the providers to make sure we have a smooth implementation.

In regard to the specific question about the non-profits and what that balance looks like, under the previous program cycle, which ended on March 31, 49 percent of all the contract dollars went to non-profits, and 49 percent of all the contract dollars went to for-profit organizations. Under the new model, 57 percent of all the dollars are going to non-profits, 39 percent to for-profit organizations, and 4 percent are going to a public institution that’s providing support. In addition to those primary contractors, there are 130 subcontractors, and 71 percent of those are non-profits, which is an 11 percent increase under the past model.

Mr. Speaker:

Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen:

I’ll go back and review later, to see if that was actually an answer, but nonetheless….

Now, let me pivot to another troubling issue regarding our social service sector, the other part of the issues that were being conflated this week. On one hand, it seems that global corporations, rather than local non-profits, are starting to take over more of the social care of B.C. On the other hand, it seems that the government is indeed favouring unionized workplaces with their low-wage redress agreement.

I realize that this was a negotiated agreement between unions and health care providers, but there is a legitimate question on how this may impact the non-unionized non-profit organizations. I have family members that have talked to me about this directly — on how it’s impacting them. We know it’s the case.

Non-profits already struggling are being hit twice in this province. They’re competing against big multinationals and they are also potentially facing disruptive wage discrepancies that are likely to increase turnover and workplace tension. It is happening. I want an answer here that doesn’t pivot to the last 16 years. I want the Minister of Social Development to please explain why the $40 million low-wage redress agreement couldn’t also be applied to non-unionized non-profits?

Hon. S. Simpson:

Thanks to the member again. The member may want to disconnect the history of the relationship of social service delivery in this province from what happens today. We can’t do that.
The reality is that we have seen a sector that has been under assault for an awfully long time. It’s a sector that we are working closely with to build a future here, looking forward, a sector where we start to build the framework around how we deliver services to people in a whole array of areas, including around Community Living B.C. and in those initiatives.

We’re working with Board Voice. We’re working with the Federation of Community Social Services. We’re working with the CEO Network and a whole array of other groups to do that moving forward. It’s a work-in-progress. I’m very confident that the system is getting stronger and that we are going to deliver the best, most effective social service programs that this province has ever seen. We will overcome 16 years of debacle.

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