Area nurses and other health professionals sent a clear message to the provincial government on November 8. The 2,790 nurses, auxiliary nurses, respiratory therapists, and clinical percussionists at the CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest launched a 48-hour strike along with others across the province in response to lagging contract negotiations.
They staged protests outside hospitals, health institutions, and long-term care centres, walking off the job for the first time in nearly 25 years. With its 80,000 members already on the picket line, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ) announced that two additional strike days will take place on November 23 and 24 if an agreement is not reached before then.
Passers-by signaled their support of the nurses and care professionals demonstrating outside the Barrie Memorial Hospital in Ormstown with enthusiastic honks. Others brought doughnuts, coffee, and even propane to ensure the protesters kept warm. The support is much appreciated, says Dominic Caisse, the interim president of the Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de la Montérégie-Ouest.
“We are just arms, and our patients are nothing but numbers to this government,” he says, noting the institutions with the CISSSMO have long been understaffed. “The lack of personnel is nothing new. It dates to before the pandemic,” he explains.
“With better working conditions, more people will come back to the public sector,” says Caisse, suggesting many care professionals have left to work in the private sphere. “But to be honest, there has been no advancement at the tables,” he says. “Nothing has been addressed. We are at status quo, and what the government is proposing is a step backward from what we presently have.”
The FIQ is concerned about wages, but also work-life balance and work overload. It is asking specifically for the government to legislate safe nurse/patient ratios, while seeking more stability in terms of work assignments. Union representatives argue the government wants to be able to change nursing shifts when necessary and transfer personnel between institutions.
“Right now, you know when you have to come in, but you never know when you will be able to leave,” says Caisse, who is also critical of the government’s demand for mobility. “Instead of trying to create attractive working conditions, they prefer to do this,” he says, adding that nurses’ working conditions directly impact patient care.
Caisse is hopeful there will be some movement at the negotiation tables but is doubtful this will happen in time to prevent another 48-hour strike. “Unless the government has an extraordinary epiphany, we will be back on the picket lines,” he laments. And, he says, it will not only be nurses on the picket lines– over 600,000 public sector workers could be protesting on November 23, as several separate strike actions are set to take place across the province.