Hundreds demonstrated their support for workers at the Institut Philippe-Pinel in Montreal. Workers there are experiencing intense issues in their workplace, and close to 154 employees have left their jobs in the past two years. This exodus has caused concern about staff, patient, and public safety.

The Institut currently has 840 unionized employees—but those on sick leave, leave without pay, and parental leave are deducted from the figure, meaning that there are about 685 current members.

CUPE 2960, which represents these workers, points to the shortage of specialized pacification and safety caseworkers (ISPS), who are responsible for emergency interventions in the institution. They have been steadily leaving to work in the provincial or federal penitentiary system and in police forces, where wages and working conditions are better.

“The Institut Pinel assesses and offers psychiatric treatment to patients who pose a severe risk of violent behaviour. We’re talking about the 1% of patients that neither hospitals nor prisons can take in. Despite this, the government of Quebec is allowing the Institute to operate without a large category of personnel it sorely needs. Last December 14, the Comité patronal de négociation du secteur de la santé et des services sociaux (CPNSSS) rejected the union’s proposal to pay a 10% retention premium to ISPS, which would have a first step toward the Institut retaining its expertise. It’s unacceptable,” says Magali Picard, President of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ).

“In 2022, employees at the Institut filed a record eight complaints with the CNESST. The Institut has an unfortunate history of violent incidents, serious injuries to employees, and psychological trauma. At present, our members and their family and friends are particularly concerned that something serious could still happen. It’s unacceptable—having safe working conditions in the health and social services sector in 2023 is a right. That’s why we’re here today,” says Patrick Gloutney, President of CUPE Quebec.

“We don’t accept the fact that the Government of Quebec has allowed the situation at the Institut Pinel to deteriorate as it has. Nor do we accept their fast and loose approach to the lives of workers, patients, and the public. It’s a textbook example of the negligence that permeates the health and social services system. If the government has that much money to spend on private placement agencies, why did they turn down what would have been a key investment to retain the ISPS?” says Maxime Ste-Marie, President of the Conseil provincial des affaires sociales (CPAS-CUPE).

“To top it all off, labour relations at the Institut are quite rocky. The employer is very quick to turn to legal action. The work atmosphere is horrible. In our opinion, this reflects a management crisis, because we’ve noted excessive turnover in management ranks. The time has come for the Institut to get a handle on things and for the CAQ to give it the tools it needs to do so. Let’s not wait until another incident takes place at Pinel,” says Marie-Ève Desormeaux, President of CUPE 2960.

During the demonstration, members were supported by other members in different sectors of CUPE, other union organizations, Institut retirees, and family members.