About 20 Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital (OSMH) employees and other health-care workers braved the heat on Tuesday afternoon at a rally to protest Bill 124 – a law that, among other things, imposed a maximum 1% wage increase for public sector employees.
“We have 70,000 Services Employees International Union (SEIU) members trying to negotiate a contract right now, but we are locked with Bill 124 and it’s not right,” explained Brad May, Chief Steward for the SEIU.
“We can’t retain staff. Last Friday, we had four nursing managers working because there was no staff. So, we have to do something.”
Bill 124, Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, was enacted in 2019 and limits per-year compensation increases – including salaries and benefits – to one per cent during three-year moderation periods.
May doesn’t believe the general public is aware of everything health-care workers have endured over the last 18 months with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Right from the start, it’s been a nightmare; people are getting burnt out. It’s important that we can get that wage up because if we need more money toward our benefits, sick time, stress leave because of all this, then it all comes out of that one percent,” he said.
May says people that want to help should send letters to local MPPS to express their desire to see health-care workers better supported.
Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare, was on hand to rally OSMH workers on Tuesday afternoon.
“There are hospital workers united right across this province who have come out in all kinds of weather over the last couple of weeks with a clear message: you deserve to be respected, protected, and paid,” she said.
“You showed up for the province for the last 18 months The hospitals are still showing up, so you do deserve to be rewarded.”
Stewart called upon all the hospitals in the province to join SEIU in their effort to lobby the provincial government to negotiate fairly with health-care workers.
Workers affected by Bill 124 include those employed by the provincial government, crown agencies, school boards, universities and colleges, hospitals, non-profit long-term care homes, children’s aid societies, social service agencies and the electricity and energy sectors.
Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop said the province is "incredibly grateful" for the efforts of Ontario's nurses and health-care workers throughout the pandemic.
"That is why we acted quickly to ensure our health-care workers were recognized for their work through programs like pandemic pay," said Dunlop.
"I want to be clear that Bill 124 does not impose wage freeze, rollback or job cuts on members of the Ontario Nurses Association. As the MPP for Simcoe North, I want to thank all of our healthcare workers for their tireless support and care for members of our community.
"Because of your efforts we will emerge from the pandemic stronger and more united than ever," she said.