OCHU/CUPE, SEIU Healthcare and Unifor say the government must prevent further closures by entering hospital negotiations to invest in frontline staff. 

In response to yesterday’s damning report by the Auditor General and a new report by the Ontario Health Coalition revealing nearly 1,200 Emergency Room and other hospital department shutdowns in 2023, three major hospital unions are demanding the Ford government come to the bargaining table with the funding required negotiate a deal to save public hospitals. Otherwise, they say workers will be forced to take unprecedented action to save public hospitals. After failing to respond to our tri-union request to streamline the bargaining process in an effort to efficiently standardize working conditions for healthcare workers across the province, these new reports make it clear that the government must now enter hospital negotiations and address the ongoing crisis.

OCHU/CUPE, SEIU Healthcare and Unifor, representing more than 70,000 hospital workers in Ontario, say that provincial underfunding has been used as an excuse by the Ontario Hospital Association during current negotiations, saying there is little room to address the decline in working conditions and patient care.

“Our members are distraught and angry. They find it inexcusable that the government is indifferent to the suffering of hospital patients. They don’t understand how Doug Ford can cut funding while ERs are shutting down, while a record number of patients are receiving treatment in hallways, and while children are dying on surgical wait-lists. They have lost faith in this government’s ability to manage public health care, and that’s reflected in the attrition rate. It’s high time for course correction – our unions have tabled reasonable proposals to improve staff-to-patient ratios and the quality of care, and the government must come to the bargaining table and deliver the resources to seriously address the crisis.” – Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), which is negotiating on behalf of 50,000 hospital workers.

Staffing shortages are causing unprecedented closures of emergency rooms and urgent care centres, according to the Ontario Health Coalition report, while labour leaders are raising the alarm on long surgical waitlists and a record number of patients receiving “hallway health care”.

The tri-union coalition is now demanding the Ontario government and OHA come together to find the much-needed funding to save our hospitals by ensuring safe staffing across all classifications, while implementing nurse-to-patient ratios to bring Ontario in line with other jurisdictions such as British Columbia and California.

Embedding staffing ratios in the contract would go a long way towards improving working conditions in a sector where exhaustion and burnout has led to a 300 per cent increase in job vacancies since 2015. Safe staffing levels will ensure that healthcare workers are supported to delivery the quality patient care they want to provide.

But reversing that trend will require significant investments from a government wedded to austerity and unwilling to alleviate the health human resources crisis, say the unions.

The latest budget estimates for 2023-24 show an effective funding cut for hospitals as they receive merely 0.5 per cent more in base funding from the province. The unions estimate that Ontario needs to invest, after increases to offset inflation, at least $1.25 billion annually for the next five years to stabilize patient care and address recruitment and retention challenges, constituting a 5 per cent annual growth rate.

However, if the government continues to be neglectful, the unions say there is a growing appetite for militancy among their members.