What Is Going On with the Strikes in the Medical Field?
Via CTV News Montreal
In early September, alarming news headlines covered the media outlets. “Medical strike” and “Big manifestation” were printed on the front page along with countless photos taken of the 500 or so protesters in front of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM). Along with banners illustrating “Y’a des limites!” (“There are limits”), the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) protested on behalf of the 80 000 healthcare workers, excluding doctors, that are signed in the FIQ syndicate organization.
FIQ representatives are demanding that the government stop treating healthcare workers as “interchangeable pawns.” “It seems that the government does not understand that there is not a shortage of workers in the health network. What’s happening is an exodus, a run-for-your life caused by the working conditions, and the work overload. Healthcare professionals are fed up with being constantly pushed to move faster,” explained Julie Bouchard, President of the FIQ. A recent poll illustrated that 42% of nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, and clinical perfusionists surveyed felt like leaving the field because of the excessive workload expected from their jobs. Out of 9663 healthcare professionals surveyed, 83% declared that the necessary patient care cannot be fully provided due to heavy workload on the workers, 55% claim as being capable of correctly evaluating their patients, 66% indicate that team members in their care unit are absent, 57% say that they are not able to administer the medicine upon patient request fast enough and more than ⅖ workers want to quit their job (@fiqsante). The FIQ also demands change within the workplace for a better life balance for the workers as well as better care conditions for the patients. However, the main solution to the problems invoked is a change in the worker-patient ratio.
To better understand the amplitude of the problem, let us look at what is happening in a negotiation period. Initially, it starts with the submission of demands on behalf of the healthcare workers to the government, leading to their response offer. This is then followed by meetings between the negotiation committee and the employer party where they try to establish action plans to address the demands. Meanwhile, the members of the union are kept mobilized in support of the negotiation committee, waiting until the Negotiation committee obtains the conditions for the right to strike following the Essential Service Act established by the government.
The legal definition of "essential service" during a strike may include specific personnel. These workers are not allowed to refuse work as their services are essential for the protection of the public. Finally, the members of the FIQ are boosting pressure tactics upon the government in order to accelerate the discussion and negotiation process and initiate action. It’s during this moment that the members could reach a strike, within the safety of the essential service act. The active negotiation phase stops when an agreement has been reached between the two parties.
In the current timeline of events, we have reached the point where FIQ has obtained the right to strike. The Administrative Labour Tribunal (TAT) has granted the FIQ permission to proceed with a possible strike of its requests made per the Essential Services Act, making it the first labor organization to do so. Overall, the decision regarding vital services establishes the bare minimum of healthcare workers who must continue to function while on strike within the healthcare system.
The TAT authorizes reduced work time in other sectors and services, including operating rooms, although emergency and critical care services continue to operate as usual as stated by the Act. In the event of a strike, just 70% of operating services would be maintained in the majority of institutions, or 80% in highly specialized centers, in order to exert pressure on the government by limiting the number of working healthcare members. For many hospital units, 85% of services will be kept up in the case of a strike, meaning that 15% of the time that healthcare workers are at work is spent on strike.
The Act also invokes the fact that 90% of services in CHSLDs must be kept up to date. These measures assure patient safety during important pressure tactics set by the FIQ members. The Act is equally known as Bill 33, which allows healthcare workers to participate in strikes. This collective action has been recognized as a constitutionally protected right since 2015 by the TAT because of its essential function in the healthcare functioning system.
Over time, healthcare professionals will continue to pressure the government to improve the current system for the well-being of all. Similar strikes can be seen in the public education system as well. The government has quite a lot to manage, but as long as the people show support and resilience, change will come.