For three decades, health care workers have
been holding the system together against its
wrecking by the anti-social neo-liberal agenda
imposed by successive governments in Quebec. For
three decades they have been blackmailed that if
they do not overwork in understaffed conditions
and if they do not perform miracles to look
after patients with not enough beds, corridor
medicine, irrational management practices, the
constant fight against plans to privatize the
cleaning and laundry services and so on ad
infinitum, they will be responsible for
abandoning the patients. Now they are supposed
to cave to these decrees because the pandemic
needs the peoples looked after. It is blackmail
pure and simple. These measures are an insult to
their intelligence because it is not the health
care workers who have abandoned the people. It
is governments and their anti-social
pay-the-rich agenda which has cut back and
wrecked the modern facilities and access in
Quebec, as is the case across the country. Once
again, the government is insulting the
intelligence of the health care workers who at
all times uphold their professional ethics.
"[...] these women and men who have had to
fight on the front lines since the beginning of
the crisis, despite the risks to their own
health, are now being thanked by having 12-hour
shifts imposed, unlimited flexibility, the
abolition of all leave and holidays, and the
loss of wages.
Health and social service workers are highly critical of the actions and inaction of the Quebec government and the Minister of Health in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, they criticize the measures taken in the April 4 ministerial order, particularly on the issue of bonuses granted to workers in the sector. Here is an interview conducted on April 6 by Workers' Forum with Jeff Begley, the President of the Federation of Health and Social Services (FSSS-CSN) in which he gives us the federation's point of view on these issues.
Workers' Forum: According to the FSSS-CSN, the ministerial order of April 4 does not meet the expectations of health and social services workers. Can you tell us more?
Jeff Begley: It doesn't meet our expectations, first of all with regard to premiums. All employees in the health and social services network receive a four per cent bonus, and people in units where COVID-19 is present receive eight per cent. We do not agree with this two-tier approach. It is all employees in the health and social services network who are under constant pressure during this crisis, in all job titles. The premium should be the same for everyone. In our opinion, premiums are an important gesture to show that we recognize that workers are on the front lines and that they are doing their duty with brilliance. That is not going to get us through this crisis together, but it is an important gesture of recognition.
We also do not agree that the bonus should be a percentage. We demanded a $3 per hour bonus for everyone. If we take the highest paid network staff, an 8 per cent bonus will represent about $4.50 an hour. For the lowest paid, such as maintenance workers and orderlies, it will be about $1.60 an hour. Yet they work in the same room, they work together, the risk is the same for both. In our opinion, it would be better to give a premium that is a fixed amount, but the government has decided otherwise.
The other major problem, which is paramount, is that of protective equipment. We recognize that the entire network had to be reorganized in a matter of days. It was a colossal task. Clearly, we were not prepared for a crisis like that, as we should have been. We have to learn lessons for the future. In the emergencies, in the units reserved for COVID-19, we now have the equipment we need. The problem was in the long-term care centres (CHSLDs) -- we were not ready at all. Even today, there are still centres where we do not yet have all the necessary equipment. Because of this, some staff members have contracted the virus and given it to their families, other staff members and vulnerable seniors. There is some catch-up being done at the moment, but in the past few weeks it has been a serious problem.
WF: The FSSS has presented five main demands to the government. Have these demands been met?
JB: As we speak, not at all. There hasn't been any listening so far. Our five demands are: that work uniforms be provided and maintained; a limitation on moving workers between sites; maintaining the whole compensation regime when workers are moved; maintaining compensation in situations of isolation; establishment of a safe transportation system to limit the spread of the virus.
For example, many low-wage earners cannot afford to pay parking fees at the facilities. They take public transit or carpool. We have asked that in this time of pandemic, when keeping distances between people is more important than ever, parking fees be eliminated for the period of the health emergency. There are institutions that have done this on their own initiative. We have asked that the government enact it everywhere. It did not agree. Also, not all employees have cars. We have asked that employers contract with taxi companies so that at shift changes, taxis will bring and take employees home at the employers' expense. This was not accepted.
We have to make sure that people who are in isolation are paid as if they were at work. This measure exists, but it is not the same everywhere, it is not applied everywhere. The government has not given the instruction to the whole system. It has to.
We are also asking that during this social emergency, since we have laundry facilities everywhere that have a fairly large capacity, that people be allowed to leave their uniforms at work when they finish their shift. They would be washed and maintained according to the rules of the trade. This is a safety measure to prevent employees from taking the virus home in case they contract it. The department says it will do this when possible, but we are asking that the directive be given for the entire network.
There is an improvement with respect to limiting moving workers from one site to another. This is particularly important for the long-term care centres because seniors are very vulnerable. Measures to limit travel between sites must include everyone, including part-timers, casuals and people on recall lists.
Faced with all these demands, nothing has been accepted. The government is not saying that it is refusing. It is saying that it is going to let the employers manage the measures. We want the government to enact these measures for the entire network.
The most important thing in all of this is health and safety. Because our members are on the front lines, they are disproportionately infected with the virus in relation to the population as a whole. We are calling for an increase in testing for the disease throughout the network.
In conclusion, I would like to express my deepest admiration for all the staff of the network. The employees consider it their mission to protect the population, but for this to be possible, working conditions must exist at the required level.
On April 3, about 100 members of the
Montreal Local of the Canadian Union of Postal
Workers (CUPW) organized a procession of
postal vehicles in front of the Jewish General
Hospital in Montreal to express their social
solidarity with hospital workers who are on
the front lines of the struggle to care for
the population and defeat the COVID-19
pandemic. The day after the action, Workers'
Forum spoke with Guillaume Brodeur who is a
shop steward at the Chabanel plant, which has
this hospital on its territory. Guillaume was
one of the main organizers of this action. See
a video from the action below.
Workers' Forum: What was the purpose of organizing the postal vehicle procession?
Guillaume Brodeur: It's an idea that germinated at the beginning of the week, to go and show our support to the health care personnel who are mobilized in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We, as postal workers, come across people who thank us for being there for them, for being on the front line. We discussed it and thought that being thanked like that is rewarding, but we wanted to do something ourselves to thank those who are on the front lines in caring for the people, the citizens, our families, the people around us. We wanted to go ourselves to bring this appreciation that the population gives us, directly to the hospital staff. In the case of yesterday's action, it was in front of the Jewish Hospital of Montreal, which is located near our postal plant and which has a large team that takes care of people with this disease.
We appealed to everyone, to take some time during their work day, on a voluntary basis, to go there in a procession of postal vehicles in front of the hospital, to honk their horns a little, to show our solidarity with the hospital workers.
It was an unbelievable success. There were about 100 postal vehicles, each worker in his or her vehicle, out of the approximately 180 postal vehicles on the road at that time from our plant. We almost surrounded the hospital. Several dozen workers from the hospital came outside to greet us. Also, you could see in the windows on the upper floors people with masks and patients greeting us. The turnout was such that as the first vehicles were leaving, there were some who had not yet arrived in front of the hospital. We made noise. We had some trumpets. We honked our horns. When we passed by the people who had come out of the hospital to greet us, we exchanged good words, they thanked us. The timing was excellent, because we know they're going to have a very difficult time, the worst is yet to come. Giving them a dose of our energy was important.
There were a lot of people that you don't usually see in the actions that were there. People's feeling is that there are things that go beyond our personal dissatisfaction, that are bigger than us. People are coming together based on real values right now. That's something positive that can come out of this pandemic.
WF: Do you want to say something in conclusion?
GB: Our sense of pride is
incredible. People have anxiety, many people are
afraid, not only for themselves, but for their
families, their parents and other people. The
sense of pride, the smiles that were on their
lips yesterday, it's priceless. The action was a
great fraternal outpouring of solidarity. I
think we should multiply these kinds of gestures
of solidarity among workers, regardless of their
(Photo: Kaye Art. Video: M. Segreto.)
(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)
Website: www.cpcml.ca Email: email@example.com