The Fight for Proper Working Conditions in Health Care

Quebec Nurses Hold Successful "No Mandatory Overtime" Day of Action

Health care workers at Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital in Montreal are joined by community supporters, with banner reading "Nurses Angry -- Citizens In Solidarity!" April 8, 2019.

"There is no turning back!"

Some 76,000 nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists, members of the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation (FIQ) held a successful "No Mandatory Overtime" day of action on April 8, as its members performed no mandatory overtime during the day of action. This proves the health care system can operate without mandatory overtime, noted FIQ President Nancy Bédard. Moreover, use of mandatory overtime as a regular practice can be ended if the government and management at health care facilities take adequate measures on the basis of proposals put forward by the nurses themselves. 

Banner outside hospital in Bas St. Laurent, April 8, 2019.

Early in the morning, the banner "Mandatory Overtime Has Gone On Long Enough" was hoisted in front of a large number of health facilities in several of Quebec's regions, with nurses standing by their union flag before entering work. The banner was also unfurled on many bridges overlooking traffic. Citizen actions in support of the day's event were organized in Montreal, Quebec City and Drummondville in front of health facilities where participants held banners reading "Nurses Angry -- Citizens In Solidarity! The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which has 25,000 members who work in the Quebec health and social services network and are also experiencing the turmoil of mandatory overtime, expressed its support for the nurses' day of action.

Banner hangs on overpass in Abitibi-Temiscamingue.

Over the years, the practice of mandatory overtime has been turned into a system of management by governments and administrations. At press briefings throughout the day the nurses reiterated their demands, which if met, could put an end to the practice. A first demand is to abolish mandatory overtime except in the case of an unforeseen emergency. This action must become a priority for the government and health facility administrations, which is not the case at present.

Through the anti-social offensive that successive governments have imposed in health care for the benefit of private interests, the human factor represented by hundreds of thousands of health care workers has been denied and seen as a cost and a burden on the health care system. Thousands of jobs have been permanently abolished. The use of mandatory overtime has become a chronic form of management, regardless of the devastating effects on staff and patients. The priority must change, nurses say, so that the working conditions change, which also change their living conditions. For this to take place, a massive and targeted reinvestment in the health system is needed, a specific portion of which must be devoted to the working conditions of health care professionals.

Nurses are calling for an upgrade of positions. Overtime and under work exist side by side. It is unacceptable, they say, that a shortage of manpower is being invoked to justify mandatory overtime when so many nurses are currently working only about two days a week.

Upgrading jobs to full-time or four-day a week positions is an immediate measure that would significantly reduce mandatory overtime. Nurses are calling for job upgrades on a stable basis, not by rotation where they would be constantly moved from one institution to another, possibly even over long distances. That would be unacceptable for nurses and patients, and would not attract young people to join the ranks of nurses. According to the FIQ, the Lanaudière region recently upgraded all of its nursing positions to four days a week to avoid the use of mandatory overtime during the week and the results are already positive.

Nurses are also demanding safe nurse-to-patient ratios, which would stabilize the situation and reduce reliance on mandatory overtime.

On the April 8 day of action, nurses broke the code of silence oppressing them by waging this courageous action and have strongly impressed public opinion. They have forcefully reiterated and put into practice what is supposed to be official policy that mandatory overtime is an exceptional emergency measure, which ultimately must be left up to the nurse, the only person who can judge whether he or she is able to dispense that service or not. Indeed, the nurses' Code of Ethics includes the obligation to take reasonable action to ensure the continuity of care and treatment as well as the duty to refrain from practicing their profession when in a state that is liable to impair the quality of care and services.

All of this was brought to the public's attention through the day of action. Nurses are determined that there is no turning back from their just demands.

Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital, Montreal

Montreal, West Island

Montreal Cardiology Institute


Montérégie East

Mauricie and Central Quebec Region


Bas St. Laurent

(Photos: FIQ)

This article was published in

Number 13 - April 11, 2019

Article Link:
The Fight for Proper Working Conditions in Health Care: Quebec Nurses Hold Successful "No Mandatory Overtime" Day of Action


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