Manitoba Federation of Labour wants health-care industry to be SAFE work certified in Manitoba

The Manitoba Federation of Labour called on the provincial government to commit to make the health care industry SAFE Work certified within the next five years at a press conference Monday.

Labour groups call on province to implement programs within 5 years to reduce injuries

Five people stand behind a podium with microphones that reads "Keeping health care workers safe."
Union leaders of Manitoba called on the provincial government at a press conference today, urging the province to commit to SAFE Work certification of the health-care industry within five years. From left: Jason Linklater, Darlene Jackson, Kevin Rebeck, Debbie Boissonneault and Kyle Ross. (Prabhjot Lotey/CBC)

The Manitoba Federation of Labour called on the province to commit to making the health-care industry in Manitoba SAFE Work certified within the next five years at a press conference Monday.

"We're calling on the Stefanson government to commit to do something to help to reduce extremely high workplace injury rates," Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour said today at the press conference.

In the last decade, while other industries like trucking, construction and manufacturing have reduced workplace injuries because they signed onto SAFE Work programs, the federation said there has been "zero progress in health care."

Rebeck noted the province already recognizes that the SAFE Work programs have reduced injuries in other sectors. 

SAFE Work programs are implemented as proactive steps to prevent workplace injuries, as well as supply resources to help make workplaces safer, like identifying workplace hazards. These programs include financially rewarding employers who implement safer workplaces for their employees.

Injuries in health care

In health care, meanwhile, nearly 14,000 health-care workers in Manitoba took injury leave from 2017 to 2021, according to the Manitoba Workplace Injury and Illness Statistics Report, and Rebeck said that over 3,000 injuries occurred in 2021 alone.

"To put that in context, health care has the highest average injury rate — nearly five injuries for every 100 workers — among all major industry sectors for many years," Rebeck said.

Because health care is one of the workplaces with the highest number of injuries, it comes with the highest Workers Compensation Board premium rates in the province — funds that could better serve elsewhere, like improving health-care services and facilities, Rebeck continued. 

"These injuries are adding to the strain on the system," he said.

A government spokesperson said in an email on Monday that it's committed to a whole of government approach to strengthen workplace safety to ensure health-care workers can effectively focus on patient care.

Debbie Boissonneault, current president of CUPE 204, which represents over 14,000 support staff in health-care facilities, said workplace injury rates are so high because health-care facilities are so often short staffed.

"When you're working short [staffed] you're often running around," Boissonneault said at the press conference. 

Boissonneault added that when short-staffed, corners are often cut because "you don't have that extra pair of hands to help you."

A woman wears maroon-coloured glasses, a polka-dot shirt and has spiked red hair.
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, emphasized that 'working conditions are also patient conditions' at the press conference today. (CBC)

Nursing shortage

Darlene Jackson, current president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, echoed Boissonneault's statements.

Jackson said at the press conference that "Manitoba is in a critical nursing shortage."

"Our members are telling us that they are tired of working in deteriorating working conditions," she said.

MNU represents more than 12,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, registered psych nurses and nurse practitioners across Manitoba,

Jackson emphasized that "working conditions are also patient conditions."

According to Jackson, she hears all the time from MNU members that they are experiencing more incidents of violence in the workplace, and added that nursing has a lot of potential hazards beyond violence — like the physical labour of moving patients, exposure to biohazards like pathogens, as well as developing PTSD from these violent incidents.

Jackson also noted that nearly 10 per cent of Manitobans currently work in health care, with a February 2023 report from Statistics Canada listing 65,000 health-care employees in the province. 

"If the Stefanson government wants to retain nurses in this province," Jackson said, then "improving working conditions in terms of safety should be a top priority."

Manitoba Government Employees Union president Kyle Ross and Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Jason Linklater also spoke at the press conference, with all five leaders present calling on the province for the SAFE Work certification of the health-care industry within five years.

Actionmargeurite Saint-Boniface, a long term care facility, previously became the first health-care facility in the province to become SAFE Work certified in January 2023.