Front-line healthcare workers with CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) joined Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) health critic France Gélinas for an announcement reintroducing a much-needed Bill to protect healthcare workers who speak out about violence in their workplace. The Bill will be re-tabled by Gélinas in the legislature in the coming days.

The Speaking Out About Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment Act would protect nurses, healthcare workers, and other workers from employer reprisals when they speak out about violence, sexual violence, or harassment in their workplace. It would also require hospitals and long-term care homes to publicly report on workplace violence and harassment.

“Every day, hundreds of hospital nurses, PSWs, cleaners, doctors, clerical, paramedical and other staff are hit, sexually assaulted, racially attacked, and verbally harassed in Ontario. And yet, healthcare workers have been threatened and fired for speaking up about the problem of violence. The NDP legislation addresses this in a serious way and is overdue” says Dave Verch, a registered practical nurse (RPN) and First Vice-President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

Healthcare workers, especially women workers and racialized workers, face growing violence and sexual violence in the workplace. In July 2022, CUPE released the results of a poll conducted by Oracle Research which showed a disturbing surge in physical and sexual violence against the women who make up 85 percent of hospital workers. The survey found that 71 percent of racialized workers report being subject to harassment or abuse because of their race or appearance and that 63% of all workers experience physical violence.

Gélinas’ Bill amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to prevent any penalty of any kind from being used against an employee for speaking out about violence or harassment. CUPE and Gélinas believe that these amendments will encourage workers to speak out when violence and harassment happen, instead of staying silent.

“My Bill will protect workers from reprisal for speaking out against violence or harassment,” said Gélinas. “No one should head to work worried about being assaulted. Even more so, no one’s career should be negatively affected for raising concerns about their personal safety or dignity. This is especially true in healthcare, where workers are being forced to experience the brunt of public frustration caused by an overburdened and understaffed healthcare system. This is wrong, it’s hurting our healthcare workers, and it must change.”

The CUPE survey found that 49 percent of all categories of hospital workers experience sexual harassment and 36 percent experience sexual assault. Another alarming fact is that 18 percent report an increase in the use of guns or knives against staff.

“Unfortunately, in many Ontario hospitals and other healthcare settings, workplace violence is too often swept under the rug. Nurses and other healthcare workers are left to feel like they’re being told that physical and verbal harassment is just part of the job. Violence should never be part of the job.” said Gélinas.