OCHU/CUPE SEIU- web Hamilton and Niagara hospital workers took a visible stand today, rallying outside area hospitals, frustrated with the “lack of respect” they are getting from both their hospital employers and the provincial government in contracts negotiations.

Provincial bargaining for nearly 70,000 registered practical nurses, personal support workers, clerical, cleaning, maintenance, dietary and other staff who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and SEIU Healthcare began in June, following nearly a year and half of challenging and risk laden pandemic work. 23,617 Ontario health care workers have contracted COVID-19 at work and 24 have died.

The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) the umbrella group that bargains on behalf of Ontario hospitals in central negotiations has proposed takeaways which would eviscerate the employment protection and mobility rights of the workforce.

Last week Ontario Premier Doug Ford again called heath care workers “unsung heroes”. But hospital workers face a cut to real wages under provincial legislation that restricts them to a wage increase less than 1/3 of the rate of inflation. The province has also severely limited hospital workers’ ability to negotiate much-needed increases to mental health supports like post-traumatic stress counselling. The hospitals are seeking many concessions in bargaining.

“Hospital workers have held the line for patients and the people of Hamilton/Niagara. They sacrificed to do that, and they were proud and grateful to be able to help. They did not expect a reward. But a cut to their modest real wages and the gutting of their contracts is not acceptable. We expect the provincial government to walk back from its 1 per cent wage cap, as the British government has just done, in acknowledgement of the pandemic effort. And we expect the hospitals to pull their concessions and to address the priorities of the workforce, particularly in the areas of pandemic protection and violence.” says Michael Hurley, President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

Health care workers in the National Health Service in the UK were also restricted to 1 per cent increases by their government. But this week the British government announced that salaries would be increased by 3 per cent, in recognition of the contribution of health care staff.

“After being thanked, celebrated and called heroes by Doug Ford’s government and their employer, hospital workers are now being rewarded by being asked to make sacrifices to their wages and mental-health supports,” said SEIU Healthcare Nursing Division President Jackie Walker. “Hospital workers are burning out and are here today sounding the alarm that if things don’t improve immediately, including the Ford government repealing Bill 124, the staffing crisis we see in our hospitals is going to continue to grow, putting our communities at serious risk.”

The Hamilton/Niagara rallies are the first of 55 rallies across the province scheduled through the end of August. Rallies are planned at Milton, Burlington and Oakville hospital tomorrow (Friday), northern Ontario and north GTA next week. Dozens of other rallies will follow in August. A major rally is planned for September 10 in Toronto.

Bargaining between OCHU/CUPE, SEIU Healthcare the OHA will resume in early September.