COURTENAY, B.C. – Workers at Courtenay’s Casa Loma Seniors Village went on strike today.

Casa Loma is part of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).

BCGEU staff representative Doreen Smith said employees hit the picket lines for “better seniors’ care”.

“Wages are extremely low, and right now there’s a problem for us to do recruitment in health care as it is because of the shortage,” she said.

“There’s several facilities around that are paying more, that are drawing workers out of the (Casa Loma) facility but also making it hard for the employer.”

She said staff is looking for better pay and benefits. One of the problems she noted was that Casa Loma is not hiring any new workers because new facilities, like the two North Island hospitals are hiring potential workers.

Casa Loma is the only Comox Valley facility going on strike, according to Smith.

“This is day one, and it’s been a good day,” she said.

“The residents seem to be supporting the strike, management is inside doing the work of the workers, and the workers are ready to go in if there’s anything essential that comes up. We also have essential service workers that are in the site as well ensuring residents are safe.”

Smith said there has been some “back-and-forth with management”, but they are still “quite a ways apart right now.”

“The key thing is to fix the recruitment problems and the staff believe that part of that is the corroding of the wages that are fairly low in this facility, and recruitment is becoming an issue,” she said.

“There’s excessive amounts of overtime, denial of vacations and an inability to take sick days because there’s no one in to cover you, so it’s a lot of pressure on the workers.”

Smith said she’s hopeful a proper deal is made soon. She noted that right now, they’re on a rotating strike basis.

“They’re actually out here until seven o’clock on Friday, at which time we will probably give another 72-hour notice to take out a different portion of the building, if we go that far,” Smith said.

The Courtenay facility has two areas of assisted living: Casa Loma and Comox Valley Seniors’ Village. The workers striking today are from Casa Loma.

“We just want the employer to step up, and I think that seniors deserve better care.”

-With files from James Wood