Hudson coast nurses walk off job over working conditions

Nurses at Inuulitsivik Health Centre’s clinics along Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast walked off the job Thursday to protest what they say is a lack of improvement in their working conditions. But meetings are scheduled next week to try to address nurses’ concerns, both union and management representatives say.

“Nurses feel that they’ve not been heard … They feel that they’re not supported,” said Cyril Gabreau, president of the union that represents the nurses.

Through the walkout, which lasted about 10 hours, they also demanded a meeting with the organization’s leadership.

However, Inuulitsivik management says the nurses missed a Thursday meeting with directors where their concerns were to be discussed, and that the nurses’ union presented a list of demands that could not be met immediately.

Change takes time, said Juliette Rolland, a senior advisor in Inuulitsivik’s executive management.

“We really care about our employees, obviously, and we want to give them something today so they finally have the impression that they are being heard,” she said.

The nurses’ walkout began at around 5 p.m. Thursday, after the clinics’ regular hours ended and emergency-only service began.

The protest stemmed from a months-long call from the Northern Union of Hudson’s Bay Nurses for Inuulitsivik address its members’ burnout caused by staffing shortages and other issues related to working conditions.

As soon as the walkout began, Inuulitsivik requested that the Quebec Administrative Labour Tribunal intervene, which resulted in nurses being ordered back to work Friday at 3 a.m.

Without union nurses staffing the emergency services, Inuulitsivik scrambled to ensure doctors and contract agency nurses were available to take calls and make sure the clinics in all seven Hudson communities were staffed Thursday night.

“There was no proper work that has been addressed or been done, even though we tried,” said Gabreau, himself a nurse in Salluit.

But Rolland said the opposite is true.

Not only has management been listening to the nurses, she said, but it has been working to implement the changes they legally can within provincial law and the existing collective agreement.

Rolland said Inuulitsivik organized a virtual lunchtime meeting with the union to avoid a walkout, but none of the nurses logged in.

“This is work that takes a lot of time, and that time, right now, is being interpreted as inaction from our establishment, and this is wrong,” she told Nunatsiaq News.

She emphasized that a lot of the improvement work being done is happening at a regional level and in collaboration with the provincial government, but implementation doesn’t occur overnight.

Next week, the two sides are set to discuss the union’s concerns, what can be done, and what’s in the works.

Gabreau will meet Monday afternoon with Sarah Beaulne, Inuulitsivik’s executive director who was appointed in November.

“If we don’t have answers or conciliation or negotiation on what we’re suggesting, other actions will be further taken care of on Monday after the meeting with the new director,” Gabreau said.

Rolland said both sides want the same thing: improved working conditions, so that the region can have access to the quality health services it needs.

“That’s why we’re still going forward with some of the measures with the hopes that they’re going to accept that positively and that it’s going to better the working conditions.”

Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News