Ahead of tomorrow’s budget in Ontario, hospital and long-term care workers, who have borne the worst of pandemic risks in the last year, surrounded Queen’s Park in a drive-by action with a clear message for Premier Doug Ford and his finance minister: Respect Us. Protect Us. Pay Us.
After a year of making pandemic sacrifices, including isolating from their families, and working grueling hours while at risk of infection because of the lack of access to PPE, health care workers who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), SEIU Healthcare and Unifor are demanding bold action to support the essential work they do with better jobs and increased protection in the workplace. So far, nearly 20,000 Ontario health care workers have been infected with COVID-19 and 20 of them have died.
Today, the unions representing 175,000 health care workers in Ontario reiterated their demand for the following long-term solutions that would stabilize the hospital, home care and long-term care workforce while improving care for residents and patients:
- Extend $4 per hour “pandemic pay” to all health care workers and make it permanent
- Provide the PPE that health care workers need to work safely
- Provide paid-sick leave for COVID-19 related illnesses and provide pay while staff await COVID-19 test results or are in isolation
- Reverse the staff exodus in health care by turning exploitative low-wage, part-time work into full-time jobs with benefits and a living wage.
The unions say that during the pandemic year, the PC government has lurched from one short-term fix to another and has failed to bring in substantive changes to stabilize the health sector workforce, which even pre-pandemic faced shortages. One of the stopgap measures resorted to is the use of personnel agencies to flood long-term care with casual mostly untrained and exploited staff. The government’s temporary COVID-19 pay hike for only a portion of the health care workforce also creates unnecessary divisions in the health sector.
“Nurses, personal support workers and other hospital and long-term care jobs are essential. They were vital before the pandemic. So why do we reward this work – done mostly by women – with low pay, dangerous working conditions and unpaid COVID-19 related sick time. The budget today must reflect the fact that these workers have made many economic sacrifices during the pandemic and extend $4 an hour to all health sector employees.” – Michael Hurley, President CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE)
“After repeatedly being called heroes and champions by Premier Ford’s government, health care workers will be watching to see if tomorrow’s provincial budget delivers for them, or if those were just empty words. The women and men who cared for our families during the pandemic deserve nothing less than the economic security that comes with full-time jobs and a living wage. It’s time to make the initial $4 per hour pandemic pay permanent for all health care workers.” – Sharleen Stewart, President, SEIU Healthcare.
“Ontario’s health care and long-term care systems were in crisis before the pandemic with COVID-19 worsening the outcomes for the sick and most vulnerable, yet the Ford government has continued to apply band-aid solutions. This budget needs to make temporary pay raises to front-line workers permanent, mandate sick days, and provide funding to eliminate the reliance on part-time precarious jobs.” Katha Fortier, Assistant to the National President, Unifor.