Seniors take centre stage at annual Labour Day Picnic

Sunshine Coast Labour Council

The 26th annual Labour Day Picnic – sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Labour Council – on Sept. 5 brought out more than 750 people who listened to local union leaders and politicians address labour issues concerning the Sunshine Coast community.

There was also a barbecue, live music, corn shucking contest, kids’ bouncy castle and other fun events, which took the edge off more serious concerns, specifically the proposal to shut down Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge residential care facilities and replace them with a for-profit long-term care facility.

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Guest speaker at the picnic, Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees Union (HEU), began by speaking about the contributions made to the labour movement by the generation of seniors who now face privatization in care homes around B.C.

“We owe the generations that preceded us a great deal of gratitude,” Whiteside said. “Medicare, pensions, unemployment insurance, quality education for our children – all of these are part of the outstanding legacy that our parents and grandparents established for the benefit of us all.

“Along with programs like these, they fought for many decades to improve the wages and the working conditions that help keep workers safe on the job, that support families and that strengthen our local economies. Their achievements helped create a society where we’re better able to care for one another.”

Whiteside encouraged everyone to contact the provincial government with their concerns and to sign a petition linked on the HEU website – www.heu.org – to demand better care for B.C. seniors.

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons also spoke at the event and warned people about the greater effects of losing public health care facilities.

“What we’re witnessing with the for-profit privatization of long-term care is a spiralling down of wages,” Simons said. “When that happens to our communities, it’s not just the seniors who suffer – they suffer because the health care quality is not what it is in public facilities – but it’s not just the seniors who suffer, it’s the workers who suffer and it’s our community that suffers. When you have a constant reduction in the wages for people – they’re paying more for their own benefits because those aren’t covered either – what we get is a situation where the entire community loses.”

Don Rheaume, president of Unifor 1119 – which represents workers at Howe Sound Pulp and Paper – encouraged Coasters to take action for their community.

“Don’t feel powerless,” Rheaume said. “I feel there is a big change moving across this country and across the world. People have had enough privatization, they’ve had enough of for-profit care and they want to protect our health care system.

“Get involved, contact your government and ask them not to do this. You have the power to do that. Right across the world, working families and people are feeling empowered. You’ve seen it in various parts of the world, and you know what? We’ve woken up, quite frankly. I hope you guys get involved.”

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