Ottawa area hospital and long-term care workers protested today at the Nepean office of PC MPP Lisa MacLeod asking her to stand with them to push to repeal the Ford government’s wage legislation that cuts their wages and prevents them from bargaining badly needed mental health supports.

They messaged Ms. MacLeod that as they cared for patients and long-term residents with COVID, she and other PC MPPs hurt them badly by imposing 1 per cent wage cap legislation (Bill 124) that with rising inflation hits the “pandemic heroines” with a 4 per cent real wage cut in 2021 and more than a 4 per cent cut again in 2022.

“The Ford government’s wage cap devalues a largely female workforce that has made huge personal sacrifices. It cuts our real wages and leaves us with no ability to bargain badly needed mental supports after the trauma of caring for patients and residents through the pandemic. We think most Ontarians are on the side of health care workers. We are asking ‘MPP MacLeod to stand with us in calling for this bill to be repealed” says Dave Verch, an Ottawa registered practical nurse (RPN) and Eastern Ontario Vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).

Since March 1, 1,600 health care workers have contracted COVID-19 at work, one of the highest rates of infection during the pandemic. CUPE believes this could not be happening if health care workers were adequately protected and is bargaining with SEIU Healthcare for increased access to N95 masks. So far during the pandemic, 30,000 Ontario front-line health care workers were infected with COVID-19 and 24 died.

The PC’s recent effort to remove licence renewal fees, that will take a $1 billion in revenue out of the provincial budget, is further raising the eyebrows of Ontario’s health care workers, says OCHU-CUPE Francophone VP and Ottawa nurse Melanie Viau. “It is a transparent attempt to lure votes. $1 billion is lot of money that could be going to increase staffing and improve patient care. It feels as if they took the money from us in real wage cuts so that they could give it away. We aren’t looking for a reward here, but to be penalized with a wage cut is just so unfair.”

CUPE in Ontario represents nearly 90,000 health care workers. 90 per cent of RPNs and personal support workers (PSWs) working in the health system are women. 65 per cent of the people who clean and disinfect our hospitals and 75 per cent of respiratory therapists are women. Almost all the ward clerks and other administrative workers are female.

“At the root of it, Bill 124 is sexist and discriminatory legislation. It doesn’t cover any other emergency personnel, like paramedics, police, and fire - which tend to be male dominated. It must go or many more nurses, PSWs and other staff will leave their jobs at hospitals and long-term care homes, which are already struggling with staff shortages,” says Verch.

Monday’s rally in Ottawa is the first in a series of health care worker protests planned at PC MPP’s offices over the next few weeks across Ontario, including in Brockville, North Bay, Pickering, Brampton, Milton, Mississauga, Burlington, Peterborough, Kenora, Stratford, Port Hope, Newmarket, Barrie, and Niagara.