Health-care workers on the front lines have been bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 18 months, but despite being lauded as heroes, nurses are still fighting for increased compensation. In August, nurses and other health-care workers gathered at Cambridge Memorial Hospital to rally for wage negotiation and to protest the province's Bill 124.
Bill 124 limits wage increases for nurses to a maximum of one per cent of compensation for three years, something that Kathy Moreland, a registered nurse from Kitchener, called demoralizing.
“This is one of the many factors that affect the morale and mental health of nurses,” said Moreland. “Out of one side of the government’s mouth they’re saying that we’re the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that they appreciate what we’re doing, but there’s no monetary compensation for that so it’s insulting.”
Ontario nurses also warn that Bill 124 could lead to a large-scale health-care crisis. Sara Clemens, a professor, health services researcher and registered nurse in Cambridge, says that before the pandemic started, the average career timeline of a nurse — 14 years — was already going down, and that with wage suppression, it could go down even further.
“I don’t think it’s cost-effective to reduce wages because the public will lose on their return on investment,” said Clemens. “We spend a lot of money on highly trained staff who are leaving the workforce, and Bill 124 will simply move that along faster.”
Clemens also notes that the cost of implementing technology such as robotics to alleviate nurse shortages around recruiting and training new nurse graduates will cost the public a lot more. Not having a high enough nurse to patient ratio will also end up costing the public in ways that are unaffordable, Clemens added.
Although applications to nursing school have increased 17.5 per cent during the pandemic, according to the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre, a limited number of spots in nursing school and a shortage of clinical placements available is still contributing to a shortage, said Moreland.
She cited the lack of PhD trained educator nurses as a factor, especially when there’s a limited difference in monetary compensation between a nurse with a bachelor’s degree and a nurse with a PhD. Nearly one in three nurses have considered quitting during the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. SEIU Healthcare Union is currently reporting a 18% to 20% vacancy rates for nursing positions in Ontario hospitals.
Christina Hughes, a registered nurse from Kitchener, said nurses were already struggling before the pandemic.
“What I’m seeing now is because nurses aren’t able to participate in collective bargaining, and they are not getting a wage increase while working more hours with less staff available, they’re feeling really frustrated and left behind,” said Hughes. “They’re deciding it’s just not worth the stress when they can’t provide the level of care and competency expected of themselves.”
The government show no signs of addressing Bill 124, as Doug Ford remains steadfast in this bill that he proposed at the provincial level. At the federal level, the Liberals have proposed giving $10 billion to provinces to help clear their pandemic backlogs and wait-lists as well as hire 7,500 nurses, nurse practitioners and doctors. The party has not mentioned whether they will consult with Premier Doug Ford on negotiating Bill 124.
“I think that there’s this expectation of nurses to be rather altruistic and incredibly nurturing in the work that we do,” said Hughes. “And, of course, we would like to be all of those things. But to have that expectation and then to not be fiscally rewarded for the work that’s being done, and the work that’s being asked of us in this pandemic, is a real slap in the face, quite honestly.”
Genelle Levy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times