CUPE members rallying against Bill 124For International Women’s Day we collectively acknowledge the contribution women make to better Ontarians’ lives. “While we celebrate women’s efforts from all walks of life, it’s imperative that we call out our provincial government for pushing wage and workplace policies that hurt economic equality and the health – both physical and mental – of hundreds of thousands of front-line health care and public sector workers,” says Sharon Richer, secretary-treasurer of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

About 90 per cent of registered practical nurses (RPNs) and personal support workers (PSWs) working in the health system are women. Over two-thirds of the people who clean and disinfect our hospitals and 75 per cent of respiratory therapists are women.

Successive Ontario governments have not only failed to lessen the wage gap between men and women in the province, for years they have actively penalized health care and other public sector workers by actively cutting, freezing, and capping their wages, says Richer.

One of the “most distressing of these attacks on women’s wages is from Ontario’s current government,” Richer says. “So much of the pain of the pandemic has fallen on women working in the health sector. Yet instead of recognizing the effort of all health care workers with significant and permanent wage increases, lower workloads, and increased protections against rising violence, this government hands them a wage cut, no ability to achieve mental health supports and even more crushing workloads.”

Since 2019 the PC’s have defiantly defended a wage cap legislation (Bill 124) – that with rising inflation is more than a 4 per cent wage cut – for hospital and long-term care workers who’ve diligently worked the pandemic at great risk to themselves and their families. More than 38,000 health care workers were infected with the virus at work.

Ontarians broadly understand that care work in our hospitals, long-term care homes and community settings has been essential to containing and reducing the impacts of the pandemic.

“My hospital co-workers and I have given so much to deal with patient volumes not seen before during the last few years to make sure our hospital, COVID-19 testing sites and mental health and addiction services continue to function through the pandemic. But the way our provincial government is treating us – ignoring rising violence against us, rationing N95 masks and cutting our real wages through Bill 124 – frankly devalues us so openly that many hospital workers are leaving,” says Melanie Viau, an RPN at Ottawa’s Montfort hospital, and OCHU francophone vice-president.

CUPE Ontario represents nearly 90,000 health care workers. They include 50,000 registered practical nurses, personal support workers, environmental cleaners, ward/administrative clerks, dietary, trades and rehab, pharmacy techs and imaging staff at over 100 hospital sites in Ontario. There are nearly 900,000 Ontarians working in health care – most of them women.