Health-care unions call Ontario's one-time $5K offer to nurses 'demoralizing'

Health-care unions in Ontario say a newly-announced one-time retention incentive of up to $5,000 for nurses won't fix the province's worsening staffing shortage, instead calling it a ploy to gain votes ahead of the upcoming provincial election in June. 

Plan meant to support nurses as province recovers from pandemic: health minister

Four health-care unions representing Ontario workers issued a joint statement to Premier Doug Ford on Monday, saying one-time payments won't fix the province's nursing shortage. This comes hours after the province announced a $5,000 retention incentive for nurses. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Health-care unions in Ontario say a newly-announced one-time retention incentive of up to $5,000 for nurses won't fix the province's worsening staffing shortage, instead calling it a ploy to gain votes ahead of the upcoming provincial election in June. 

In a letter to premier Doug Ford, four unions — SEIU Healthcare, Unifor, the Ontario Nurses' Association and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) — accused the incentive of being a "pay-as-you-vote gimmick" that fails to address bigger issues. 

"While you're promising up to [$5,000] for nurses, what they really want is the support to do their jobs well and to do them safely," the unions wrote in the letter Monday. 

"They want to be able to bargain wage increases that reflect their worth and the significant inflation they are facing." 

The letter came just hours after Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the incentive pay Monday morning. 

Payments will come from employers in two instalments, in a lump sum for full-time nurses and as a prorated payment for part-time and casual nursing staff.

Elliott says the government will spend $763 million on the incentive, which is meant to support the nursing workforce as the province recovers from the pandemic.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario will invest $1 billion over the next three years to expand home care in the province, which will annually help nearly 700,000 families. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"Even when faced with the unprecedented challenges of the last two years, Ontario's health-care workers have continued to work tirelessly ... this is especially true for Ontario's nurses," Elliott told reporters Monday at a news conference in Ottawa.

"A strong nursing workforce is going to be critical to supporting the province's recovery in the months and years ahead." 

Nurses in hospitals, long-term care, retirement homes, home care, mental health and addictions, emergency services and corrections and others who worked directly with patients during the pandemic will be eligible.

People must be employed as of March 31 to receive the first payment and Sept. 1 to receive the second.

The Nurse Practitioners' Association of Ontario (NPAO) said in a statement Monday it hopes the payment will convince nurses to "continue to provide the exceptional care Ontarians need."

"We have long stated that nurses are the heartbeat of healthcare," NPAO Executive Director Dana Cooper said in the statement.

"Never before have the nursing ranks been pushed to these limits and it is being reflected in the number that are leaving the workforce." 

Repeal Bill 124, unions urge Ford 

That problem has only been made worse by the pandemic. Many nurses are leaving Ontario hospital jobs to start their own companies, work in smaller clinics, move to other provinces or the U.S. where the pay is better, or even turn freelance. 

The healthcare unions, which represent a combined 220,000 workers across Ontario, said in their letter that the shortage "requires urgent action to better respect, protect, and pay all healthcare workers."

They say that should begin with repealing Bill 124. That legislation was introduced in 2019, and capped annual salary increases for many public sector employees, including nurses, at an average of one per cent annually for three years. 

"Healthcare workers don't need more of Premier Ford's bumper sticker election gimmicks, they need a plan that works to fix the real problems that undermine our public healthcare system," said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, in a statement Monday. 

OCHU President Michael Hurley agreed, and said what health-care workers actually want is to be able to bargain wages that "reflect their contribution and the significant inflation they are facing.

"Ad hoc gestures like one-time retention bonuses don't raise the base rates and aren't pensionable," he said. 

What's more, the unions say there are shortages in many health-care occupations and professions, urging the Ontario government to extend any retention bonus to all healthcare workers.

"They don't apply to everyone and leave all of other health-care workers feeling unvalued," Hurley added. 

With files from The Canadian Press


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