Quebec nurses union says job postings requiring bilingualism are discriminatory

MONTREAL — A nurses union on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula says job postings by the local health-care network discriminate against francophones because they require that applicants speak English.

The union has asked the Health Department to intervene by ending the bilingualism requirement for about 20 internal job postings for nurses and nursing assistants in the Gaspésie regional health authority.

"Several health-care workers are being refused jobs in Gaspésie under the pretext that their English is insufficient," union president Pier-Luc Bujold said in a Tuesday news release. "Discriminating against French speakers is a behaviour from another century in Quebec."

In a phone interview, Bujold described the bilingualism requirement as "senseless" given the staff shortages and recruitment challenges plaguing the health system. He said he thinks the measure disqualifies the majority of would-be applicants in the region.

The priority "should be to find people to work and not to reject candidates," said Bujold, with Syndicat des infirmières, infirmières auxiliaires et inhalothérapeutes de l’Est-du-Québec.

In a statement, the local health authority insisted that English proficiency is not a barrier to employment for nurses in the region. "All nurses who want to work in the (network) and who are qualified to provide quality care to patients can do so," says the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Gaspésie.

The health network said it designates positions with English-language requirements in accordance with the demographic makeup of the region in order to "meet the needs of the population."

But Bujold says health-care workers who aren't bilingual can adequately serve English speakers, either by developing a vocabulary for assessment and treatment or by calling on existing colleagues with English skills.

"There are no English speakers who have died … as a result of a language barrier, because nurses and nursing assistants have learned to overcome this language barrier," he said.

Bujold said the Gaspé Peninsula health network refused to accept the union's demand. A spokesperson for the Quebec Health Department referred questions to the local health authority.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023.

The Canadian Press