Nurses march in Toronto to demand better wages, staffing, working conditions
Hundreds of Ontario nurses rallied and marched in Toronto on Thursday to call for higher wages, increased hospital staffing, improve working conditions and a better contract.
Members of the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) took to the streets as mediation continues with the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) The nurses gathered at Sheraton Centre Hotel in downtown Toronto before they marched north on University Avenue, past what is known as Hospital Row, to the front lawn of Queen's Park.
"We need a better health-care system, better staffing, better wages. We can provide better care when we have better staffing. That's what we're fighting for,"said Janice Petina, a nurse for less than two years, who was at the Queen's Park protest.
The nurses' union started bargaining with the hospitals in late January and if no deal is reached through mediation, it will go to an arbitrator in early May. The ONA represents 68,000 registered nurses and 18,000 nursing student affiliates. The OHA represents 140 public hospitals.
This will be the first contract for the nurses since the passage in 2019 of a provincial wage-restraint law known as Bill 124, which capped pay increases for many Ontario public sector employees at one per cent a year. Discontent with the bill flared during the pandemic when many nurses overwhelmed by successive waves of the novel coronavirus in Ontario hospitals simply quit or moved away.
In a news release, the ONA said the protesters "believe both employers and this government need to know that the future of patient care for Ontarians depends on long-overdue improvements to working conditions for those that care for them."
'We love our nurses,' Ford tells NDP
Inside Queen's Park, there was a feisty exchange between elected representatives about nursing.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles told Premier Doug Ford in question period his government is driving its nurses away.
"This room is filled today with nurses who are leaving this province at record levels. Nursing has become our greatest export from this province because this government fails to respect working people in this province," Stiles said.
Ford replied: "We love our nurses. We know the dedication. They go in day in and day out. We're going to continue hiring nurses. There's 30,000 nurses in our colleges and universities ready to serve. We're grateful and we think the world of our nurses."
NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky said if the Ontario government appreciated nurses, it would not have passed Bill 124 and wouldn't have filed a notice of appeal after an Ontario court found the bill unconstitutional late last year..
"Premier, if you actually loved and supported nurses, you wouldn't be fighting them in court over Bill 124. Will the premier finally support workers in this province?" she asked.