Health-care workers at Queensway Carleton to protest Thursday for expanded pandemic pay in hospitals
OTTAWA -- The union representing many health-care workers in Ontario's hospitals says the province's pandemic pay program is creating a division between the "heroes" and the people left behind.
The Ford government introduced a $4 per hour raise for front-line workers in late April, but the list of eligible workers was widely panned by unions who said it didn't include enough people. Days later, the province expanded the eligibility for the pay increase to include groups like paramedics and respiratory therapists.
- FULL LIST: Who is eligible for the "pandemic payments"?
In a press release Wednesday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said there are still "tens of thousands of health-care staff" who have been excluded from the program.
Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, tells CTV News the government has created effectively two classes of workers in the province's hospitals.
"Imagine if, in your industry, the government called one group of workers 'heroes' but not all of the other workers who help keep that industry running," Hurley said. "I don't think it's intentional, but the distinctions between which workers get the pay increase and which don't is sapping morale."
Some examples Hurley gave are cooks, who are covered by the pandemic pay increase, and dietary aides, who are not. Hurley says many workers do similar jobs and encounter similar risk, but are not included in the government's program.
"A dietary aide is just as important as a cook; a maintenance person is just as much at risk as a nurse. These workers are just as much on the front lines of COVID as anyone else in our hospitals."
CUPE says some unionized workers at the Queensway Carleton Hospital plan to walk out at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and march from the hospital's parking garage to the intersection of John Sutherland Drive and Richmond Road to protest.
Hurley says these workers will be those who have finished their shifts or who are about to start them. No one will be walking off the job during working hours to attend the protest.
"These workers are protesting on their own time. We know they are working very hard to keep people safe and we do not intend to abandon anyone," Hurley said. "So, this will be workers who are done work for the day, or who come in early to protest and then start their shifts."
Hurley expects the demonstration to last for about half an hour. He says the goal is to be visible.
"We've done a few actions inside the hospitals but today our goal is to get out and be seen by the general public to raise awareness about the unfairness of the government's policies."
CUPE also says some workers at the Ottawa Hospital's campuses and at four retirement homes in the city will be participating in what it called "indoor actions" Thursday.
Hurley could not immediately say which retirement homes are involved, but said the indoor activities would not disrupt daily work.
"It will mostly be taking photos of people who do similar work to say, here's someone who gets the pay increase and here's someone else, doing a very similar job, who does not," he said.
PPE shortages still an issue
Another issue the union wants to highlight is the ongoing need for personal protective equipment (PPE).
Hurley says the union is calling on the Ford government to expedite the production of the vital N95 respirator masks in Ontario.
"We know it can be done. General Motors is making N95s in Michigan so the company has the knowledge," Hurley said. "We are having trouble getting the masks from international markets so we're asking the government to have the GM plant in Oshawa make N95 masks here in Ontario."
Ford has previously said he wants more critical PPE and other health-care equipment, like ventilators, produced in Ontario. Some companies, such as an auto parts manufacturer in Kitchener, have already begun shifting production lines.