Striking staff to demand Ontario improve wages for private health care workers

Representatives from two influential unions and striking workers from two private health care centres will be at Queen's Park on Monday to urge the new government to improve conditions for staff at the facilities.

Workers, union bosses to hold news conference at Queen's Park Monday morning

Striking workers at two private, for-profit health care facilities in northern Ontario say low wages and precarious work have left them in financially difficult situations. (iStock)

Representatives from two influential unions and striking workers from two private health care centres will be at Queen's Park on Monday to urge the new government to improve conditions for staff at the facilities. 

"At the Owen Sound Family Health Organization and the Port Arthur Health Centre in Thunder Bay, front-line workers have been on strike for weeks because the doctors who own the clinics refuse to pay them fairly," a news release from Unifor said. 

The national president of Unifor, as well as the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will jointly call on Premier Doug Ford's PC government to "ensure that fee increases he negotiates with Ontario doctors help improve the low pay and terrible working conditions faced by front-line workers in many community health clinics."

About 65 unionized staff at the for-profit Port Arthur Health Centre have been on strike since April 9. Their duties include things such as medical aid, administrative and billing support and logging medical records. 

The doctors who own the facility have not tried to bring striking staff to the bargaining table since the work action began, according to Lori Salmi, unit chair at the centre. 

"They feel like we're not worth the money for the work that we do but our counterparts at other clinics earn three or four dollars more an hour for equivalent work," she said in an interview from Thunder Bay. Salmi will be among the workers who join the union heads at the 9:30 a.m. news conference. 

In addition to what they see as unfairly low wages, Salmi says that some 65 per cent of staff at the Port Arthur facility are casuals who have no guaranteed hours. That leaves them in precarious financial situations, she added.

"I really hope that the doctors come back to the bargaining table," Salmi said. 

Ontario doctors are currently pushing for an increase in the fees they charge for some services. Salmi said if doctors earn more for doing their jobs, some of that benefit should be passed onto their staff.

"The Ontario government must make sure that any future fee increase won't further balloon profits and enrich doctors while health care workers in the private sector remain grossly underpaid," said Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, in a statement.