Workers' Forum: How was the No Mandatory Overtime action in your area?

Éric Tremblay: The day was very successful. There was no mandatory overtime worked in our area and we are 4,300 health care professionals, nurses, licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists. It's a first. So far, mandatory overtime has been used 350 times in our area since January. Our day of action shows that when the employer is willing to make an effort, it's possible to avoid mandatory overtime. There must be good planning. When we are shortstaffed, it can be difficult to find people to fill in, so management uses mandatory overtime to keep the same people on shift, the easiest thing for them to do.

We hoisted our banner "Mandatory Overtime Has Gone On Long Enough" over Autoroute 25 to notify the public that we were holding a day without mandatory overtime. There was a citizens' demonstration in front of the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital with the banner "Nurses Angry -- Citizens in Solidarity!"

WF: Can you briefly explain what problems are caused by mandatory overtime in your area?

ET: For years we've had budget cuts and management hired part-time workers. They are starting to hire for full-time jobs again, but a lot of workers don't want them because they're worried that if they work five days, they will end up doing five days with mandatory overtime. They fear being held hostage longer and more frequently.

Mandatory overtime causes a lot of problems for workers as well as patients. It affects alertness, causes fatigue, burnout. We have a huge rate of absenteeism. If I'm not mistaken, we're close to a rate of 15 per cent for long-term disability absenteeism in the Montreal's east end. We're not talking about day-to-day life here, about calling in sick for the day. Burnout is largely the result of mandatory overtime.

When they cannot find someone for mandatory overtime, they increase the workload. If you're in the emergency room, for example, and you have to take care of eight patients instead of four, you cannot be as vigilant. The ratios are smaller in the emergency department, because the cases and care are complex, it requires greater vigilance. This is where the issue of safe care comes in. This means that at some point, the patient may not be receiving the proper treatment or may not receive it within the required time frame. Let's take the example of a Long-Term Health Care Facility (CHSLD ) where there is instability, where people are tired, and the ratio is increased to the point that at times a nurse could have 75 patients. You are supposed to give people their medication at 8 am, but how can you do that if you have 75 patients to take care of? One patient may receive medication at 11 am and another at noon. The interval for the medication is not respected. Medication is not meant to be taken in this haphazard manner. So the population is also being held hostage with regard to their care.

WF: What are you proposing to remedy the situation?

ET: We have proposed a work-time reorganization. It’s a project initiated by us, which would be applied to the eastern part of the island. It’s an eight-day work schedule covering a two-week period, with full-time conditions, meaning a bank of sick days, a full-time pension, benefits, etc. We would work two four-day weeks with a weekday off. Anything over eight days of work in that two-week period would be paid overtime. Right now the project is being tested in the emergency department. The employer is open to it, but for the moment is not ready to pay overtime beginning on the ninth day. People working in emergency are keen on it. It’s not full-time work. It’s more than part-time, with employees being given full-time conditions.

WF: Do you want to say something in conclusion?

"Mandatory overtime is the problem,
never the solution."

ET: We are asking all workers to support this cause because it is their cause. What we provide are services. This not a commercial enterprise. People have the right to good quality services. That's why we have ratio projects, to determine how many patients a nurse should have to be able to provide quality care. Where ratio projects are being tested, where the workload has been lightened, it has been demonstrated that there are fewer injuries; patients are left alone for less time, particularly in CHSLDs. The same goes for intensive care, if you have safe care, chances are you will recover more quickly; there is less chance of error, etc. There are investments to be made at the beginning to ensure savings further down the line.

Under current conditions, the employer has every interest in keeping the problems under wraps. There is a hidden understanding that your job is at risk if you reveal what the employer is doing. We defend the right of our members to say what is happening. To date, we have had 10 disciplinary warnings for refusing to do mandatory overtime. Yet our code of ethics says that if you are exhausted and do not feel that you able to work, that you may put people at risk, you have the right not to accept. We are contesting all the disciplinary warnings.

If we work without mandatory overtime, it's a win-win situation for all.

This article was published in

Number 13 - April 11, 2019

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