Surgeries and other medical appointments are being delayed in Quebec as 80,000 health-care workers are on strike for the second day in a row.
At the picket lines, however, nurses say their fight for better working conditions is vital.
They say a government that was calling them “guardian angels” not long ago is now showing them a complete lack of respect.
Elodie Viau is a nurse at McGill University Health Centre and has been a health-care provider for 23 years. She says her young son recently asked her why she was always leaving home so early and coming back so late.
“I’m like, ‘well, I have to go to work because there’s nobody else.’ He’s like, ‘but you keep coming back home late. I don’t see you. They should give you a day off,'” Viau recounted.
She’s just one of tens of thousands of health-care workers who walked off the job for two days across the province to underscore what they say is a desperate need for better pay and working conditions.
“Health-care workers throughout the province of Quebec, we’re the lowest paid in Canada,” Wanda Kodybko, a nurse at Lakeshore General Hospital, said on the picket line in Pointe-Claire.
The workers say a recent government offer of a 14.8 per cent increase over five years is insulting after MNAs recently gave themselves a 30 per cent increase.
“After COVID, after everything they put us through, they can’t even give us a salary that makes sense. It’s like we’re worth nothing,” said Sandra Antoine, a nurse clinician at the Jewish General Hospital.
“Now that we need them to take care of us, they don’t care,” Viau added.
The nurses told Global News that being short staffed, underpaid and overworked makes it very hard to recruit fresh faces to the profession.
“When they see the workload and everything and how we’re rewarded, they’re leaving,” Viau said. “They’re just changing careers. We can’t keep them.”
“They’re always giving us more work and more work and asking for more, but at the moment, our mental health has taken a shot,” said Xavier Fernandez, a nurse at the Jewish General Hospital.
The strike is inevitably causing disruptions for patients.
The Jewish General Hospital told Global News that 26 non-urgent surgeries were cancelled.
The MUHC closed two operating rooms at the Royal Victoria Hospital, two at the Montreal General Hospital, one at the Lachine Hospital, and two more at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, said MUHC spokesperson Annie-Claire Fournier. “All patients whose operations have been cancelled have been contacted, and their operations will be rescheduled. The MUHC is monitoring the situation very closely to ensure there is no impact on urgent cases.”
In the West Island, CLSC walk-in patients were turned away.
The nurses say patient care suffers every day because they’re stretched too thin.
“We want to give good care. We’re not in nursing to just do whatever and just try to keep the patient alive. We want to make a difference in their lives. We can’t do that in the conditions that we have right now,” Antoine said.
Quebec’s health ministry said all essential services are being maintained and says it is working with health institutions to reduce the impact on patients as much as possible during strike days. It said only non-urgent surgeries have been affected by the strike.