Quebec's Ministerial Orders Are Unacceptable

Picket at Rivière-des-Prairies hospital in Montreal, June 29, 2020.

Benoît Taillefer is Vice-President, Occupational Health and Safety for the Workers' Union of the Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre, Montreal North.

Workers' Forum: Your members are required, by ministerial order, to train thousands of new orderlies who are receiving far less than the normal hours of education. What is the situation now with the new orderlies doing their internship in the residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs)?

Benoît Taillefer: First of all, I must say that I have absolutely no problem with people coming to join us and that they are paid good wages. At the same time, there are people who have been here for a long time, who see new people coming in who have not had to do everything they did to become full-time -- working days, evenings, nights, having to be on-call seven days a week and so on. I'm happy for the young people who are coming to work. I am less happy for those who have fought for positions and who, after years, still do not have access to full-time positions and feel they have been left behind.

The problem is that the government does not negotiate. It just issues decrees and announces them publicly.

When we, in good faith, ask for recognition of the value of health care workers, when we ask for wage increases for all low wage earners, which would be, in fact, a wage catch-up for the past 20 years, they just laugh at us.

At this time, training for these new orderlies has just begun. Workers are calling me, telling me about overwork, about a training task being imposed on them on top of their regular duties, instead of asking for volunteers to take on the training. What is more, five dollars a day for that responsibility is ridiculous. We have to take the time to train someone properly because we are caring for human beings and we have to pass on to the newcomers the best of what we know. We are doing our best to train them properly and we also have to do all our other duties. Our workers are not being replaced while they are doing training. They are expected to do both their job and the training. We're talking about training people who have done a bit of theory and who don't have any field experience. We are in a situation where our members were already overworked before the pandemic started and now they have to do this training as an additional task. We are in the process of verifying all the information that our members are giving us, to build a serious case on the issue.

Once again, we hear nice words from the politicians about how the "guardian angels" are precious and how they must be valued, but this is not what we experience on the ground.

WF: Governments are using the pretext of the pandemic to rule through increased ministerial dictate. What is your opinion on this?

BT: The government is being politically opportunistic with its use of the COVID-19 crisis. Ministerial orders are not an acceptable way of governing. We have a collective agreement that has been negotiated and signed in good faith. Now we have ministerial order after ministerial order being imposed on us, violating our rights and we do not have a say. I understand that we are in crisis and that there are emergencies, but there are limits and they should not be making our people sick. When you can no longer take summer vacations, when people are exhausted, when there are health care workers who have died in the field, and when more than 5,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Quebec, many of them in long-term care centres, that shows a total lack of recognition for workers. And yet the health care workers are the ones who do the work and who unfortunately sometimes die as a result. It is time government paid attention to our concerns and demands, especially when it comes to our health and safety. The government must stop passing ministerial orders and must talk to the unions in good faith.

Employers must also understand that unions are not enemies but partners. Not co-managers, but partners. This is especially true when it comes to health and safety, and COVID-19 is a health and safety issue. I represent people who do the job. They know what they're talking about and they need to be consulted and listened to.

I continue to believe that the union needs to be more involved. There has to be communication that involves the unions on a daily basis. I know this is happening in some of our centres. There are lunch hour team meetings to review the situation, where nurses and attendants participate.

When you're part of the team that gets together to come up with a solution to a problem, you're going to implement it. When you had no say and it's imposed on you and it doesn't make sense, implementation is a problem. For things to work well, workers have to be valued and recognized and their autonomy has to be respected. When that doesn't happen, what we hear in the field is "Of course, we're just attendants," so they are not included in the discussion. The devaluation of orderlies is a serious problem.

The government is trying to ensure that the situation remains the same. So are employers. They give us information, directives, and we are supposed to do what they tell us to do. But when we want to communicate things, make claims or proposals, we are not listened to.

We can't go back to what we call "business as usual." We have to understand that there is a major problem. There is a general overload of work. We don't have time to provide what I call psychosocial care. I understand that we are not psychosocial intervention professionals, but the support we give to people at the end of life is still psychosocial support. Who is closer to the residents, apart from the family, than the attendants? And many residents have no family. They have been left on their own. It is with the attendants that they communicate, express their distress, their needs. We don't have the time to give them that kind of care. We used to have it, but we don't anymore. We had it 30 years ago, when I started to work in the sector, and it was wonderful. We're almost racing now to do our job. Bringing in 10,000 new people isn't going to create a miracle. We have to be able to do the job worthy of the name, worthy of what an orderly is.

Some corrective measures have been applied. Now there are masks at the entrance to the CHSLDs. There is a guard at each entrance. People enter through only one door. The entrance is guarded 24 hours a day. You have to sign in when you enter. Workers who have symptoms have to report, and if they do have symptoms, they go home and are paid, so that's good. There are steps being taken to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The fact remains that there is a fundamental crisis in the CHSLDs. The COVID-19 pandemic has lifted the veil on the many aberrations in the health care system. No one wants to bring things back to the way they were. That is completely out of the question. We have to learn from the lessons that COVID-19 taught us.

This article was published in

Number 50 - July 23, 2020

Article Link:
Quebec's Ministerial Orders Are Unacceptable - Interview, Benoît Taillefer


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