#NursesWeekend: Why the Ontario nurses are striking against a state of austerity

Ontario’s Health Minister has admitted that some nurses “have been asked to forgo pay raises” and says she plans to take action. Catherine Fife made her comments on Monday after nurses throughout the province staged protests — earning a blanket denial from Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government — in hopes of securing a raise for 1.6 million employees.

On Monday, Premier Ford announced that he had listened to nurses’ concerns but denied that they were “being ignored,” and launched an investigation into whether or not the province violated any labour laws.

Nurses are battling for full payment for their increasingly expensive classroom work.

Nurses in Ontario have gone toe-to-toe with Premier Ford for weeks now, and the premier’s antagonism continues. Hospital operators—who are the source of most of Ontario’s hospitals’ funding—are irked by the nurses’ “pattern of collective bargaining” and say that they are preparing to respond to new threats from the nurses’ union. Ontario has a tough history with public unions, and, in 1985, the Ontario Trillium Foundation was created to fund anti-union propaganda for Ontario employers (public and private), and to pursue divisive campaigns against unions.

The nurses’ union, which has over 140,000 members, issued a one-sentence response.

A spokesperson for Premier Ford told CBC News, “It’s time for the nurses to take this issue directly to Premier Ford. We cannot allow ourselves to be held hostage to what is not in the best interest of the people of Ontario. We’re talking about long-term sustainability for our hospitals that are able to serve our citizens, delivering care in the communities we all call home.”

How’s that working out for you?

During the August labour dispute, hundreds of nurses picketed Ontario hospitals, refusing to work as a symbol of support for their colleagues who were striking against Premier Ford’s austerity budget. One nurse told a news station, “Why should I work for nothing?”

But, as CBC News reported, “nurses at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Oakville say they are taking the fight against Premier Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to Ford’s doorstep.” The province’s nurses are called on to fight for “their right to be paid fairly and have safe, quality patient care” by backing the open letter they wrote this summer, which is full of criticisms of the Conservative government.

This isn’t just about nurses. It’s about an industry that makes promises and then does not fulfill them. The complex union-management dynamics of hospitals can’t be resolved on a month-to-month basis. And Premier Ford’s solution—refuse to pay and stick to your guns—presents few advantages, since a rolling wage freeze has meant that unions have to find additional ways to stay afloat.

Nurses in Ontario deserve better. Even with their pay raises and job security enshrined into law, on a workforce that is projected to increase from 1.6 million to 1.8 million people over the next seven years, nurses are facing some difficult questions and have a good reason to cry foul. The recent budget promised greater efficiencies in hospitals and reduced the number of staff needed to be paid on the spot, eliminating full-time positions and patient beds. This is a barrier to their ability to do the job properly and serve patients. That’s why the Ontario Hospital Association has made a strong push for implementing a 16-year-old agreement with bargaining for full compensation before it ends next year.

This is no academic debate. In a country grappling with inequality and patchwork social policy, the nurses are standing up to kick the tires, and the rest of the province should listen.

Today marks the fifth day of the province’s nurses’ protest against Premier Ford’s austerity budget.

Read the full story here.


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