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Ottawa health-care workers protest to repeal Bill 124


Nurses and other frontline health-care workers say a law the Ford government passed in 2019 is fueling a critical hospital staffing shortage, and they want it repealed.

Members from various unions protested Bill 124 in front of the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital on Tuesday. They say the law is unfair to a profession dominated by women.

“We have this bill that says, ‘No - you can’t negotiate, you’re not worth more than one per cent,’” said Rachel Muir, the Ontario Nurses’ Association bargaining unit president for the Ottawa Hospital. “It’s devaluing, it’s demoralizing, it’s very misogynistic.”

Bill 124, introduced by the Ford government in 2019, is meant to “ensure that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province,” the government says.

But Muir and others argue it restricts unions’ ability to negotiate collective agreements in a fair and equitable manner. The bill caps increases in salaries or benefits to a maximum of one per cent for three years.

Muir says the bill has made already strained health-care staffing levels even worse.

“There’s beds that are going to remain empty, not because we don’t have patients to put in them, but because we don’t have front line health care workers to care for those patients.”

Muir says that vacancies are up, including those for permanent full-time nursing positions.

“In the range of 200 to 260 on any given month,” she said. “That is up significantly from pre-pandemic, where we were averaging a 100 to 150 per month. And that is just for nursing, that does not include any of the other front line workers here.”

A spokesperson for the Ottawa Hospital didn’t give specific job vacancy number, but said the hospital has increase recruiting efforts during the pandemic.

“The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) continues to recruit nurses and other health-care professionals,” Rebecca Abelson said in a statement. “Throughout the pandemic, recruiting efforts have been ramped up to address the increased need for hospital care.  We are exploring new recruitment and training strategies to ensure we provide the highest level of support to our staff and patients.”

Nurses like Kelly Johnston, who works in a COVID-19 unit, has seen long hours and stress.

“It’s been really challenging,” she said. “We’ve been faced with significant staffing challenges, from nurses to orderlies to our clerks. We’ve had staff get sick.”

The Ford government has also previously announced that eligible Ontario nurses will be getting up to $5,000 in incentive pay to stay on the job. Top Stories

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