Two nurses at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, a primarily English institution, have lost their licences and their jobs because they failed to pass a French grammar test required by Quebec's professional order of nurses.

Elizabeth Davantes and Eulin Gumbs say the action is unfair.

They point out that they both financed their education through years of Quebec government loans and bursaries, yet now must look for jobs outside the province.

Davantes and Gumbs had been working at the Sir Mortimer B. Davis Jewish General Hospital under temporary licences while they took French courses after failing the written grammar test.

The Order of Nurses of Quebec turned down the hospital's latest request to have the temporary licences renewed.

Hospital staff in both French and English hospitals are required to pass language proficiency tests, said Gérald Paquette, the spokesperson for Quebec's Office de la langue française.

"We have to remember that even though they are called 'English hospitals,' they are required, like all other health establishments in Quebec, to offer services in French," he said.

Paquette said the tests are compiled with the help of professional orders and employers, and are not imposed by Quebec's language branch.

"If the professional order and the employers decided that a certain level of written expression is required, well, these requirements are established by all, not only by the Office [de la langue française]," he said.

A head nurse at the Jewish General Hospital told reporters that the departure of the two nurses comes at a bad time, because many hospitals in Quebec are facing a serious nursing shortage.

In a statement, the hospital said the nurses were excellent employees and it wanted to keep them, but Quebec's order of nurses refused to renew the licences because of the language test results.

The hospital said it cannot keep unlicensed nurses on staff.

The statement said one of the nurses had been working at the hospital for two years, and the other for five years.