'A slap in the face': CUPE P.E.I. says its members overlooked in new health-care bonus program

A provincial incentive program to recruit and retain nurses and other health-care workers needs to also include all support service staff, says CUPE P.E.I.  

Workers such as custodians and cooks left out of provincial incentive program

A person in scrubs inside a hospital corridor
CUPE P.E.I. says its support service workers have worked hard and often short-staffed throughout the pandemic and deserve to be included in the health-care retention incentive program. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The P.E.I. government's incentive program to recruit and retain nurses and other health-care workers has overlooked the essential work support service staff do, says their union. 

CUPE P.E.I. said its workers who do jobs such as laundry, cooking, and sterilization, need to be offered bonuses along with nurses, paramedics and others. 

"It's disheartening. And to quote our members, it's a slap in the face from our government," said Rhonda Diamond, president of CUPE local 805, which represents workers at health-care facilities from Charlottetown to Souris. 

The provincial government announced the $8 million incentive program Monday, offering thousands of dollars in bonuses if people keep working in the province for one year.

CUPE says members would strike if they could

Registered nurses and nurse practitioners will get $3,500 for a one-year return in service agreement. Licensed practical nurses and paramedics will receive $3,000 and residential care workers, home support workers and patient care workers will receive $2,500. 

Diamond said the exclusion of CUPE members from the bonus program is less about the money and more about recognizing the work they do. 

"Health P.E.I. and the government would not be able to function if our members didn't go into the workplace today," said Diamond.

"We do not have a right to strike, but I can tell you if they did, they would be out today."

Two nurses stand in a hospital hallway.
The P.E.I. government also announced retention programs Monday aimed at keeping older workers in the system and filling key vacant positions. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Chris Lewis, president of CUPE local 1778, said his members have played an essential role during the pandemic and have often been short-staffed. 

"Especially during COVID, they were more important than ever because without a clean facility and clean operating rooms ... health cannot operate," he said. 

"[The members] are just disappointed and a little disillusioned by it all."

Diamond said she hasn't slept since Monday morning because of dealing with this issue.

"We were on conference calls for three and a half hours last night … and here we are today. We're all at the CUPE office and we're having talks and discussion," she said. 

She said she would like to talk to P.E.I. premier Dennis King and health minister Ernie Hudson. 

Two other retention programs launched

The government also launched two other retention programs Monday. 

Through a retirement retention program, health-care workers who are eligible for retirement will be offered $5,000 to work in the system for another year.

A priority vacancy program will also be brought in to provide a further $3,000 incentive aimed at filling about 190 key vacant positions throughout the health-care system.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said the province is doing everything it can to attract and retain health-care workers.

"We've been focused a lot on recruitment, which is very, very important. But we also have to remember that we can't add to a system if we keep deleting from it."

With files from Angela Walker