'It's not about the money': Quebec's bonus pay for nurses won't solve staffing crisis, groups say

Quebec nurses say the government's proposed plan to curb the critical staffing shortage in the province won't work because it doesn't address dismal working conditions, such as forced overtime.

Some criticize plan for not addressing dismal working conditions and forced overtime

The vice-president of the Quebec Nurses' Association says throwing money at a problem that requires real change to working conditions is 'ridiculous.' (Getty Images)

Quebec nurses are criticizing the government's proposed plan to curb the critical staffing shortage in the province, saying it won't work because it doesn't address dismal working conditions in the public sector, which they say is a key reason nurses are leaving.

Yesterday, Quebec announced it will provide bonuses of up to $18,000 to full-time nurses, part-time nurses willing to work full-time and nurses that return to the public sector as part of its emergency response to the personnel crisis. 

But the vice-president of the Quebec Nurses' Association, which represents over 4,000 nurses and nursing students in the province, says throwing money at a problem that requires real change to working conditions is "ridiculous." 

WATCH | Why one nurse quit the public system, and another is on the brink:

In and out of the system: Quebec nurses struggling to keep up with demands

4 months ago
Duration 3:57
Two nurses, one just entering the field, and the other who left due to harsh conditions, weigh in on why the public system is losing employees so rapidly. 3:57

"It's not about the money," said Alex Magdzinski, the association's vice-president who has now left the public sector for the private one. "Nurses have been seeing these types of initiatives put in place for decades now."

Magdzinski says the Health Ministry's plan lacks real, sustainable, long-term solutions, and would like the government to look at options such as a ban on mandatory overtime, self-scheduling for nurses, a limit on hours nurses can work in a day, rigid nurse-to-patient ratios and proper work-life balance initiatives. 

"Unless you're ready to pay nurses double, maybe triple what they're paying right now, I don't really see that these financial incentives are going to work," he said. 

Naveed Hussain, a nurse at the McGill University Health Centre, says the government's announcement is a good first step, but he, too, has some reservations. 

"The fact [Premier François Legault] said he will prioritize caring for us after all we have been through is reassuring," he said, commending the government for recognizing the plight that nurses have long endured in the public system. 

"It's a great idea, but is this a tax-free initiative? Or will the bonuses go back into taxes we pay?" 

The president of Quebec's largest nurses' union, Nancy Bédard, says the plans don't pointedly address the gruelling work conditions that have been driving staff out of the public sector in droves — leaving the province short 4,300 nurses. 

She says members of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), which represents some 76,000 nurses, say they doubt the bonuses will entice them to stay in the public network, noting their main reason for their shift to private agencies is compulsory overtime. 

Chicken-and-egg situation

"We did not hear about nurse-patient ratios, clinical support, overload," said Sophie Savoie, a former nurse at Pierre-Boucher hospital in Longueuil, of Thursday's announcement.

Compulsory overtime and deteriorating working conditions led her to resign last January. The salary, she said, had nothing to do with her decision.

Legault said yesterday the overall goal is to offer nurses a better work-life balance with improved conditions, but said in order to do so, the province must first increase staffing numbers. 

Magdzinski says this leaves the province in a chicken-and-egg situation. 

"The public sector wants nurses … and then [the government] says the conditions will improve," she said. 

"Well, nurses want to see conditions improve first before they have confidence to return."

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Daybreak


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