Health-care staff expect much-needed breather this summer, with no restrictions on time off

A ministerial decree gives hospitals and other health-care establishments the ability to limit how much time off staff can take. But all signs point toward overworked health-care workers being able to take some much-needed vacation time this summer.

Head of nurses union warns hospitals, other establishments not to use government decree

This summer, the amount of vacation time for health-care staff, including nurses, is not expected to be limited by the Quebec government's decree. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

All signs point toward overworked health-care workers being able to take some much-needed time off this summer.

Last year, many hospitals and other health-care establishments imposed a two-week limit on vacation time for some of their staff, specifically nurses.

Regional health boards across Quebec were given that power by a decree from the provincial government.

The decree allowed them to impose certain rules in order to make sure it had enough staff on hand to care for patients during the pandemic.

In some cases, part-time employees were forced to work full-time hours due to staff shortages.

That decree is still in effect and it will stay that way "in the short term", said a spokesperson for Health Minister Christian Dubé. 

However, the spokesperson added that vacation time for health-care workers will be given out according to the rules of their collective agreements, and that the minister "is putting everything in place" to make sure there are no staff shortages while health-care personnel take "well-deserved vacations."

The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), the largest nurses union, in the province says it hasn't heard of any health-care establishment that plan to limit their employees' vacation time.

But given that an outbreak in a hospital could happen at any moment and affect staffing levels, union president Nancy Bédard issued a warning.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is on the decline, and the province's vaccination campaign is accelerating. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

"There is not one establishment that can take away the right of health-care professionals to have vacations this summer. It is non-negotiable,"Bédard said.

"At the present time, it is clear and understood with the minister of health and social services that summer vacation is going to be given according to the collective agreements of each of the establishments." 

One regional health board has already made it clear it will not use the ministerial decree.

"Last summer, we had asked our personnel to limit their vacation time... because there was a serious shortage," said Sonia Bélanger, head of the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

"This summer, there won't be any restrictions. So people can take time off according to the usual rules."

Bélanger says the pressure on the health-care system is far from what it was last year.

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With files from La Presse Canadienne

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