Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government is doing all it can to find more workers to fill vacancies in the Ontario healthcare system. Ford said in Stratford Wednesday that the province is facing "a generational labour shortage" that is affecting more than 380,000 jobs in several sectors across the province.
But NDP health care critic France Gélinas is not buying it.
The Nickel Belt MPP said Ford is "downplaying the crisis in Ontario's hospitals to justify his government's lack of action."
Gélinas said the staffing shortage in hospitals and other health venues is not because of any generational labour shortage. She said it is because the ruling Progressive Conservatives introduced Bill 124 in 2019.
The main concern for Bill 124 is that it put a one-per-cent wage cap, per year, on any increases that could be won by public sector employers, such as registered nurses, registered practical nurses and several other classes of healthcare workers. The limit is for three years.
Despite that, the call to repeal Bill 124 has become the rallying cry for the Ontario Nurses Association, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and other labour organizations, who said that the bill essentially took away their collective bargaining rights.
Gélinas said the passage of Bill 124 was such a slap in the face to health-care workers, they just began quitting because they felt so disrespected and disillusioned.
Gélinas said health workers were so tired and exhausted from coping with COVID-19 that the decision to cap their wages pushed many people too far.
"And they said I've had enough, I'm leaving, I'm not going to be a nurse anymore. I'm not going to be a physiotherapist anymore. I can't take this anymore," she said.
"The people involved are telling the premier every day, we feel disrespected. We gave it 110 per cent for two and a half years through COVID. We've worked really hard. We would like our government to respect us, to respect our health care workers, and they find Bill 124 is completely disrespectful toward them," Gélinas said.
She said the bill was enacted in September of 2020. She said it means the bill is still in force for just more than a year. Gélinas said it is not too late for the premier to turn things around and repeal the bill now. She said it would give the premier some much needed credibility with the public sector workers.
"It's an opportunity to turn the page to say, we hear you. We listen to you. We respect you. We will get rid of this bill. It would do a whole lot just for morale. Healthcare workers are not machines. They're human beings. And sometimes they need to feel like they're valued. And this is what they're asking the premier to do. And the premier keeps refusing," Gélinas said.
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.