Ontario nurses are starting new contracts on 1 February. These agreements are poor and unfair – much of which is in the public record. To stay competitive, Ontario’s nurses should demand a fair contract that maintains the retirement benefits and increases that they already have and guarantees other improvements in their working conditions.
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Ontario’s nurses aren’t the only ones getting shortchanged. As research shows, Ontario is no different than the rest of Canada in underpaying its educators, public servants, service providers and workers. For example, Ontario Public Service Employees Union workers earn significantly less than their equivalent employees in other provinces and overseas.
These workers also get less credit for hours worked than their peers. The only exceptions to this are those employees who are of retirement age, and are given special bonuses for long service. But we see no evidence that Ontario employers are appreciating their generosity. Instead, they’re trying to lure these retirees back with the promise of higher pensions.
Linda Silas, a Toronto nurse, speaks up for her colleagues in a letter to her local council. Photograph: Paul Huntington/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Nurses in Ontario also fail to get equal recognition in court. Ontario’s pay rates are even more inadequate than New Brunswick’s. If it weren’t for litigation, Ontario’s nurses would be on a small salary scale (greater than $50,000) lower than nurses in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and PEI. But that’s not the case. Nurses in Alberta, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and PEI get treated equally, even though our province is perceived as a national powerhouse of health care.
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Nurses and teachers are among the toughest working people in Ontario, and they deserve the full benefits of being recognized as such. Successive provincial governments have done their best to keep Ontario’s nurses low-paid. But the public sector pay disparity is not exclusive to nurses. One recent study demonstrated that Ontario’s public workers earn nearly 60% less than their peers in other provinces.
The public sectors pay gap in Ontario is so severe that it affects everyone. It affects municipalities, hospitals, seniors care facilities, homelessness assistance programs, pharmacists, social assistance managers, seniors’ homes, workplace safety, the rule of law, community colleges, and education. It affects students who struggle to afford higher education in a time of deep debt. And it affects all Ontarians, in ways we cannot even imagine.
Ontario’s public sector pay differential is astounding. Nurses are paid 43% less than their counterparts in Alberta and 15% less than the average salary in British Columbia. In Ontario, the wage gap has shrunk slightly since the 1990s. But nurses still earn a larger share of all workers’ wages. And the pay gap that does exist is well on its way to getting even smaller.
In 2017, the provincial government introduced a new legal mechanism to address inequity in public sector wages. This mechanism allows Ontario to review the actual pay of its workers, so that the government may ensure employees are paid fairly. Yet the government made no changes to the agreement that went into effect in January 2018. Instead, the government continues to selectively review workplaces in an uncoordinated fashion, using statistics about salary tiers to justify these inequities.
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Ontario’s public sector pay disparities are not like those in the private sector. The reason the gap exists in the public sector is because public sector workers are unionized. A pay disparity exists because public sector workers get a livable wage and safe work environment. A pay disparity exists because governments routinely compare public sector workers to private sector workers who don’t get these things. And yes, the public sector wage gap exists in a world where wages for comparable employees in all provinces are often low or at least between 16% and 20%.
Nurses, your pay and conditions are under attack. Now that you’ve reached your contract, is it time to fight back?