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Workers Persist in Raising Just Demands
Health Care Professionals Demand Abolition of Mandatory Overtime
On February 12, the Quebec Interprofessional Federation (FIQ) announced that it has asked the International Labour Organization (ILO) to intervene to stop the imposition of forced labour on health care professionals. Because of government inaction, the union and its affiliates proceeded to lodge a complaint against mandatory overtime (MO) with the ILO, a UN agency, to put an end to a management practice which discriminates against health professionals, of which the vast majority are women, and which impacts their health, their security and their dignity.
In a communiqué, the FIQ states: “In so doing, we are denouncing the systematic use of MO, which leaves health professionals defenseless in the face of their employer’s blackmail, threats and bullying. The fact that the government tolerates this form of forced labour is discriminatory since it is aimed at women who make up the vast majority of the workforce. Since this practice is mostly not documented, no one, including those at the head of the system as well as government authorities, is held accountable. The damaging effect on health professionals, however, such as depression, burn-outs and disabilities, are well documented.
“Mandatory overtime is one of the causes of the serious staff shortages within the Quebec health care system at this time and cannot in any way, shape or form be considered as a solution to this problem. It is the government’s responsibility to no longer tolerate this practice in its jurisdiction. It has the power to compel the employers to act on this matter. In light of the government’s inertia, it must be called to order.
In its complaint “submitted according to section 19 of the ILO Constitution,” the union explains in great detail every aspect of the employer’s use of MO. Here are some of the points made:
– The use of MO in the everyday functioning of health institutions in Quebec has increased and has been generalized to the entire system over the past years. The situation has had numerous consequences for professionals as well as for the health care provided to the population.
– The systematic use of MO as a management tool in terms of standards and foreseeable requirements by the system’s employers, contravenes Conventions number 29 and number 105 of the ILO.
– The use of MO is trivialized and normalized to such an extent in Quebec that the FIQ and its affiliated unions are compelled to ask the ILO to acknowledge that its use has an adverse effect on the fundamental rights of the nursing staff they represent.
– The situation is not uniquely one of poor working conditions but one whereby the use of threats transforms the relationship between the parties into a certain form of exploitation — a form of forced labour, a practice which is on the fringe of the Quebec and Canadian legal framework.
– The FIQ asks the ILO, among other things, to act so as ensure the accountability of employers and system managers when they impose work on the nursing personnel and to abolish the use of forced or mandatory labour in all its forms, which further implies an obligation to refrain from resorting to MO, an obligation to act so as to avoid situations which encourage its use and to impose sanctions for its overuse.
The ongoing struggle of Quebec health care workers against mandatory overtime and to end the brutal disrespect for their most basic human rights and the dire consequences on the health system itself are of utmost concern for all workers and society as a whole. The abolishing of MO once and for all will go a long way in restoring the dignity and integrity of health care professionals as well as improving the health care system for the well-being of all.
The ILO has been a specialized agency of the UN since 1946. When the/Law on Labour Standards/was passed by the Quebec government in 1979, a number of standards were set on the basis or in the spirit of relevant ILO conventions. The fact that health care professionals – and others in Quebec and Canada such as the injured workers and First Nations — choose to appeal to the United Nations to intervene underscores the necessity for governments to be held accountable. Rule of law implies that these rules and norms which ensure a basic coherence to society apply to everyone. The government’s role is to ensure they are abided by, not, themselves, ignore or bypass them.
To read the complaint in its entirety, click here.
(Workers’ Forum, posted March 4, 2022)