NURSES CAN’T CATCH A BREAK—or even take one. In Ontario, Premier Ford wants them to volunteer to work unpaid extra hours in COVID-19 immunization clinics. In Quebec, Premier Legault lets their bosses take away their vacations.
The Ontario government issued a “call to arms” on December 12 for anyone and everyone to volunteer “to help further boost capacity and get more boosters into arms sooner.”
Regulations were changed to allow retired nurses and physicians, dentists, and firefighters to give shots at vaccination sites, so long as they are supervised by a physician, registered nurse or nurse practitioner.
The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) said their members were ready to answer the call, as they had with similar asks in the past—but not without serious reservations.
A statement to ONA members from Cathryn Hoy, ONA First Vice-President said Premier Ford: “continues to frantically try to draw on your professionalism to push you beyond your breaking point with no end in sight.
“In this call for volunteers, he [Premier Ford} is banking on the fact that many nurses, although exhausted, burnt-out and disillusioned, will still step forward once again because its who nurses are and it is what we do. But, enough is enough."
Ford asks a lot, gives little
The union says Ford has no problem asking nurses to do more, but continually fails to answer their concerns about compensation and liability. The union points out unpaid work is both unfair and a professional risk.
A Twitter post on the ONA website captured the angry mood of many nurses at being asked to do still more. It featured a closeup of a tired nurse’s face, overlaid with the word respect in large, bold letters. The tweet reads: @FordNation is asking burned out nurses to “volunteer” vs being paid like doctors at up to $220 per hour. This is further disrespect for a female-dominated profession. Yet another classic example of the disrespect shown to RNs and why they are leaving. TIME FOR CHANGE!
ONA points out members volunteering on unpaid time are placing their license to practice at risk as well as forfeiting all the protections that paid time work provides—namely, Legal Assistance, Malpractice Insurance, WSIB coverage and the provisions and protections of a collective agreement.
ONA reminded employers that volunteering does not negate the fact that the Collective Agreement requires payment for time worked—it simply provides a list of individuals who have the time, and strength, to work a little bit more.
Quebec makes vacations uncertain
The pressure on registered nurses in Quebec is much more direct. A new law says nurses like ER nurse Joanne Scullion cannot count on taking the vacation time off they have earned.
Scullion told CTV News on January 4 she’s burned out. “This is my eighth shift in a row. I need a day off. I can’t work tomorrow, physically or mentally, I’ll make a mistake.”
A government decree adopted in the first wave of the pandemic that’s still in force allows hospital administrators to cancel vacations of nurses and other health-care workers.
“This thing about our vacation, he’s [Premier François Legault] trying to kill us. He has absolutely no clue what we do,” she said.
The end result is likely to be the last thing anyone wants says Julie Bouchard, president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ).
“If the government takes away our vacations, a lot more nurses may decide to leave the profession.”
Right now, across the province there are more than 11,000 health-care workers off the job, either sick or in isolation as hospital admissions keep on rising.
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