Thousands of nurses in Quebec are working hours of overtime every week and aren’t getting paid for it, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Nurse Practitioners.

CBC’s colleagues at Radio-Canada reported this weekend that nurse practitioners in Quebec who have Master’s degrees routinely work between five and 10 hours a week in overtime. Often, they are not paid for these additional hours, reported Radio-Canada.

'They are abusing the devotion we have towards our patients.' - Régine Laurent, FIQ president

Nurses with Bachelor’s or college degrees often find themselves in a similar situation.

Even if they were to be given time off in lieu, the nurses Radio-Canada spoke to said it would be unfathomable to have — and to be able to take — an additional six or seven weeks off a year.

Issue at the negotiating table

“If we wanted to keep the same flow, the same number of patients, we have to be there a certain number of weeks per year. It therefore becomes impossible to be able to take all that additional time off,” said Chantal Fortin, president of the Association of Specialized Nurse Practitioners.

This situation also affected nurse clinicians, many of whom have Bachelor’s degrees and who work on the front lines, like in CLSCs. Shorter lunch breaks, arriving at work early and leaving late are daily occurrences for many of the nurses who do home care, according to Radio-Canada.

What does a specialized nurse practitioner do?

  • Order diagnostic testing (blood tests, x-rays)
  • Perform invasive diagnostic testing techniques.
  • Prescribe medications or other substances.
  • Prescribe medical treatments.
  • Perform medical procedures like stitches. 

The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) is well aware of this kind of forced volunteer work. FIQ president Régine Laurent said managers in the health care sector play a big role here.

Laurent said some managers intimidate nurses by telling them it’s because they’re disorganized that they are unable to complete their work in the prescribed amount of time.

“They are abusing the devotion we have towards our patients, and we have to break that,” Laurent said.

The union also has a role to play. Under the collective agreement, the job descriptions are often written in a way that appears to indicate registered nurses would not be paid for overtime.

Laurent said it will be a major point of contention in the next round of negotiations.

“What we’re telling them is, time worked, time paid, just like for everyone else,” Laurent told Radio-Canada.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, overtime hours approved by managers are subject to be paid at a time-and-a-half rate. Otherwise, nurses can lodge grievances to ensure their collective agreement is respected.

Quebec nurses, in numbers:

  • 16,629: The number of nurse clinicians (with Bachelor’s degrees).
  • 260: Number of nurse practitioners (with Master’s degrees).
  • 2000: Number of new nurses needed over the next few years.
  • 167: Number of nurses currently in university.
  • $360 million: Payment of overtime hours in the health care network in 2012-2013. Of this, $207 million went to nurses in all categories.
Based on a report by Josée Thibeault