Toronto

1% pay increase under public-sector wage cap a 'slap in the face,' Ontario registered nurses say

Registered nurses in Ontario hospitals say the one year, one per cent wage increase awarded to them under the legislation that caps public-sector wages devalues the work they do. 

Nurses' union says government's Bill 124 caps wages unfairly and seems like 'a gender issue'

Estelle Frost-Cleary, who's been a registered nurse of 29 years, says the latest wage increase of one per cent for RNs devalues her work. (Submitted by Estelle Frost-Cleary)

Registered nurses in Ontario hospitals say the one year, one per cent wage increase awarded to them under the legislation that caps public-sector wages devalues the work they do. 

The arbitration decision, handed down Monday, stings more because nurses have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Estelle Frost-Cleary, who's been a registered nurse in Toronto for 29 years.

"One per cent is a slap in the face," she said. "Nurses are working twice as hard, longer hours and under unbearable conditions in some cases." 

She said the morale among her circle of nurses is "as low as I've ever seen it." 

Moreover, she says she and others she knows still haven't received the $4-per-hour top-up in pandemic pay, even though the province said the funds started to flow this week. 

Generally speaking, rates of pay for full-time registered nurses start at around $33.23 per hour, reaching as high as $47.57 per hour, according to the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) website referring to the previous collective agreement.

'A gender issue'

The union also expressed disappointment in the arbitration ruling. 

"This does not acknowledge what we do in the health-care system, it doesn't respect us for what we do, and acknowledge how critical we are," said ONA president Vicki McKenna. 

According to the union, the increase, which is less than the rate of inflation at two per cent, has been a pattern for the last decade. 

Vicki McKenna, the president of the Ontario Nurses' Association, says the provincial wage cap seems to target predominantly female workers. 'It feel very much like a gender issue and that's disconcerting,' she says.  (ONA/Twitter)

This time around, McKenna said the ONA's hands are tied in the bargaining process because of legislation the province passed last fall that capped public sector wage increases at one per cent. It applies to teachers and nurses, but not local police or doctors. 

"It's a predominantly female work force. It feel very much like a gender issue and that's disconcerting." 

In a statement to CBC News, the press secretary for the president of the Treasury Board said all municipal employees are exempt, including police officers, firefighters and public health unit employees, and the bill applies to more than one million people spanning different sectors. 

"Any suggestion that it targets any demographic group [is] totally baseless," Sebastian Skamski wrote. 

McKenna also said the legislation interferes with the process of collective bargaining and cites that as a reason the union launched a charter challenge last December against Bill 124

Hailed as heroes

In May, Premier Doug Ford hailed nurses as the "heroes on the front-line of our health-care system," but Frost-Cleary says she feels like anything but. 

"You're called front-line and you're called essential but you're really a body that can replaced."

She said she and other nurses she speaks with also feel the union representing them as well as they should be, stating she wants the ONA to communicate with members more and do a more effective job of lobbying the government. 

McKenna said the union has been pushing the province. 

"With this legislation in place, and the confines that it provides us, it makes it really difficult." 

Nurses are also deemed essential workers, so they don't have the ability to go on strike. 

The Ford government said it's committed to protecting public sector jobs and the "fiscal health of the province." 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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