In the News
Quebec Workers Speak Out About Achievements in 2021 and Challenges in the New Year
– Nathalie Savard, President, Union of Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses and Inhalotherapists of Northeastern Quebec –
The year 2021 was quite busy and challenging for SIISNEQ-CSQ, which represents the nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists of the North Shore and Northern Quebec. We worked hard to take care of those who take care of people, our members. We must take care of them if we want to take care of the population, and employers have a serious responsibility in this regard.
Working conditions are very difficult. The huge health establishments that the government has created, which cover the entire North Shore under a single employer, has dehumanized care. Rather than being considered human beings, we are treated like serial numbers. Depending on the shift, you may work one day in Baie-Comeau, then in Minganie, in Chibougamau, and so on.
Our collective agreements have been tossed aside through the ministerial orders of Premier François Legault and some of his Ministers. They have given themselves the right to do whatever they want — to move personnel, to put people who were part-time for family reasons on full-time work, etc. We had to fight hard against this, while at the same time negotiating a national collective agreement that had expired, during the pandemic when it was difficult to go to see people and to mobilize the members.
We are also fighting at the social level to make sure quality health care in our regions remains local and accessible to all. It’s important to have health care in the clinics everywhere. With the merger of the Integrated Health and Social Services Centres, the situation has been difficult. There’s also the shortage of personnel, which is creating a lot of problems.
In 2022, we hoped that the pandemic would be behind us but since the beginning of the year, with the Omicron variant in our regions, we’ve had nothing but challenges. During the previous waves, on the North Shore and in Northern Quebec there were few or no COVID-19 cases. Now there are many, adding to the difficulty we already have managing the situation day-to-day.
Our priority since before the holidays has been the health and safety of our staff, with 15,000 health care workers in Quebec who have contracted COVID-19. We had meetings with the government recently, where we clearly indicated that in order to keep our people and bring others into the network, the priority is occupational health and safety.
We’ve been asking for a long time that the members we represent work with N95 masks. COVID-19 is spread through the air and surgical masks are not sufficient. Our hospitals are old, with ventilation systems that are not adequate to protect health care workers. We demanded that N95 masks be provided, that uniforms be provided and washed, and that employers immediately fill out claims for workers who get hurt or sick, for the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board, instead of telling them to go on sick leave. We still have to fight to get our pregnant women and our immunosuppressed people out of the workplace.
We have a long way to go. We want to protect staff members, ensure that our people remain in the health network, repatriate people from the private hiring agencies to the public network, and have free and equal health care for everyone. One of our big challenges in the regions this year will be to fight to keep our public services close to where people live.
We need a humane health care system but the changes that have been made make that difficult. For example, our CEOs used to come from the region and would defend our health system and the people — the citizens — who live there. Now they are often from outside our regions.
We have to unite, fight, and fight as a society, side by side with the mayors, the prefects, the members of Parliament, the citizens of our regions to defend our health system and local services. When we hear the Quebec government talk about our health care system, we think that perhaps it is destroying it in order to better sell it, and that would be terrible for the citizens of Quebec.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 24, 2022. Translated from original French by Workers’ Forum.)