Hamilton Hospital Staff Call for Wage Cap Imposed by Ford
Government to be Lifted

          ‘I’m not sure I can survive on the one per cent pay raise,’ says veteran nurse Sharon Richer.

Sharon Richer, secretary treasurer for the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, speaks during a rally outside the St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Charlton Campus calling for Bill 124 to be repealed on May 11, 2022. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Meggin Kraft has been a nurse for 20 years, but these days she’s exhausted and having trouble making ends meet. She said it’s gotten so bad, she’s considered quitting and working with her son in a factory.

“I want something I can live on,” Kraft said during a rally outside St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s Charlton campus on Wednesday.

“I’ve survived cancer, I’ve survived COVID, but I’m not sure I can survive on the one per cent pay raise.”

Health-care workers are exhausted, demoralized and a one per cent cap on their annual salary imposed by Bill 124 is making it very difficult to stay motived and find new nurses willing to fill the gaps left behind by those leaving hospitals in droves — that was the message shared during the protest organized by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Kevin Cook, a regional vice president for the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) was among the speakers during the event, which followed similar protests in Sudbury, Ottawa, Toronto and Oshawa.

There are more than 700 job vacancies at Hamilton hospitals, some 250 at St. Joe’s he said. Cook said the “staffing crisis” can’t be ignored during the election and called on the Progressive Conservatives (PC) to scrap their bill.

Bill 124, which was enacted in 2019, limits the wage increases of provincial employees, like nurses and teachers, to just one per cent per year, which is below the rate of inflation.

“This week alone I’ve had three nurses tell me … that they’re not doing this anymore,” said Cook.

“They’re working short-staffed … they’re burnt out, they can’t get days off. They say they can go get jobs elsewhere and make more money.”

CUPE said vacancies are “soaring” at hospitals across the province, stating hospital, nursing and residential care facilities have over 32,000 and another 10,350 have been reported in ambulatory care.

Hospital workers rallied against the one per cent cap for their yearly pay increase, calling for more support after two years working through a pandemic. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

“There’s no staff to look after patients,” said Sharon Richer, secretary treasurer with OCHU.

“This is a crisis now but we’re going to see it in the next two years, really developing because of COVID, but also because governments … are not respecting health care workers.”

Both the Ontario Liberals and NDP have pledged to repeal Bill 124 if elected.

Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, also took aim at the PC bill during a debate this week.

Schreiner presses Ford on Bill 124, which caps wages for provincial employees including nurses

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Party leader Doug Ford responded by touting his government’s $5,000 retention bonus for nurses.

Cook said that’s not enough.

“[Ford] can repeal it. He’s refusing”

The rally took place during National Nurses Week.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association has organized a rally of its own against the bill, which will take place in front of the office of a Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate in St. Catharines on Thursday.

Kraft said the pandemic has been “tough,” pointing to a recent night where two out of the three nurses working on her floor had to care for one patient with respiratory issues while a lone nurse juggled 18 others.

“We don’t have time to give the care that we need to give,” she said.

Asked what she wants to see from provincial parties this election, Kraft summed it up in one work: “respect.”