March 2, 2002
KELOWNA - Service and job cuts made so far by Gordon Campbell's Liberal government are nothing compared to what will happen if British Columbians don't stand up and voice their opposition now, a leading union figure said in Kelowna on Saturday.
"If we do nothing, we haven't even seen the beginning of what this government has in for store us," George Heyman, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, warned about 100 students and instructors gathered for the annual North Okanagan Labour Council spring school.
"They're talking about wiping out the 40-hour work week in the Employment Standards Act," Heyman said.
Also on the Campbell agenda, according to the BCGEU leader, are severe chops to the Workers' Compensation Board and labour code changes that will make it easier for employers to contract out jobs.
Heyman said WCB regulations will be changed to guidelines and staff will be cut, making it harder to file a successful claim and reducing worksite safety inspections.
But he told his audience at Okanagan University College's north campus it's not too late to stop the Liberal destruction.
"I believe we can push them back," Heyman said. "I believe we can prevent them from bringing in even more harmful changes to our communities."
"If what they want is confrontation in this province, they'll get it. If what they want is co-operation then they have to ... step back and deal with our communities, with working people and with everyone else fairly and with consultation."
Heyman said many British Columbians, not just union members, are upset with the new government and he urged people to let their MLAs know they're unhappy with the government's direction.
The poor and people in rural B.C. communities have taken the brunt of the government's cuts so far, said Heyman.
The closure of 24 courthouses in smaller communities reduces access to the justice system for people living in those communities. Rural communities are also losing other government offices and services.
Most forms of legal assistance for the poor have been eliminated.
Meanwhile, the richest 8,000 British Columbians got more than half of the province's $2-billion income tax cut, handed out on Campbell's first day in office.
"The rest of us have to divide the remaining less-than-50 per cent. And what did we get in return? We get fewer services in our communities. We get increased medical service plan premiums, we're likely to see an increase in ICBC premiums and we're seeing user fees and the de-listing of medical services.
"For many people, the tax cut they got on the first day the Liberals were elected is completely gone."
Heyman noted B.C.'s unemployment rate has increased two per cent since the Liberals took office and responded to suggestions public-sector workers have been protected while private-sector workers suffered layoffs the past few years by saying: "I didn't think the point of the exercise was to share the pain so we're all out of work. I thought the point of the exercise was to get private sector workers, whether in the logging industry or the tourist industry, back to work, not to see if we can all be miserable and unemployed together."