By Jeff Morris
Nurses from Local 83 of the Ontario Nurses Association joined the growing number of protests across the province last Thursday as they gathered in front of Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari’s office in Richmond to protest Ontario’s Bill 124.
Last month, the ONA released a statement saying it is deeply disappointed that the province’s hospital-sector registered nurses (RNs) and health-care professionals will see just a one-per-cent wage increase retroactive to April 1, 2020 and one per cent at the end of the contract (April 1, 2021) in a one-year, arbitrated contract.
“Our hospital-sector RNs and health-care professionals have been hailed as heroes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” notes ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN. “They have put their health and the health of their own families at risk to provide care for their patients, even without necessarily having access to proper protective equipment. Yet, due to the provincial government’s wage suppression legislation (Bill 124 – Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act), Ontario’s highly skilled RNs will again fall further behind with a wage increase that does not come close to the rate of inflation or the increases received by their male comparators.”
The ONA said in a media release that RNs and health-care professionals have suffered under austerity measures implemented by successive governments for more than a decade, with increases of less than the rate of inflation for many consecutive years. They have worked long, very difficult hours throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and hundreds have been infected with the coronavirus due to a lack of PPE.
“RNs continue to be the backbone of our health-care system,” says McKenna. “We want to be at the bedside, to provide care for those who need us, and employers demand that dedication. Yet at the bargaining table, employers and government continue to undervalue and disrespect our female-dominated professionals. RNs have been constrained from reaching a fair agreement. This is unacceptable.”
The local march was organized by Angel Paniagua Perez. In his time as a nurse, he said he and his colleagues have never received a raise equal to the rate of inflation. Lately, the wage increases have been one per cent.
“We here from the government that we are heroes for the work we do,” said Paniagua Perez. “But Bill 124 has crippled our ability to get more than one per cent each year. Nurses are essential health care workers and have no right to strike. We can’t strike like teachers can.”
Paniagua Perez said that there would be other demonstrations in front of the offices of Conservative MPPs in Ottawa. There was a protest in front of the office of Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod Thurs., July 9.
Discontent over Bill 124 has been there since the bill was passed in November, 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought even more attention to the situation.
“During this pandemic the public has seen our work, and they value our work,” said Paniagua Perez. “When COVID-19 hit, it was a huge mess for everyone. There was a big emotional toll on the nurses that were working with COVID-19 patients. We have to protect ourselves and make sure our families are protected.”
Regardless of the pandemic, Paniagua Perez says it’s time for Ontario’s nurses to be heard.
“It’s our time,” he said. “If not now, when? If we can’t stand up now, when do we stand up? This is our time to make sure we our heard. This has been going on for so many years, it is our turn to be shown that we are valued like policemen, firemen and other essential workers are.”
ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as more than 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.