Some health-care workers excluded from pandemic pay increase: union

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TORONTO — Thousands of hospital staff in Ontario are not eligible for the province’s pandemic pay premium, the union that represents them said Tuesday as the government left open the possibility of expanding the program.

The president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions said those not benefiting from the wage support program include maintenance workers, dietary workers and clerks, who could be exposed to COVID-19.

Michael Hurley said expanding the program to include everyone working in the province’s hospitals would recognize their hard work and  boost their morale.

“They feel like they’re being told they’re not heroic, they’re not on the front line,” he said. “They’re not seen by the government as making a valuable contribution to the fight against COVID-19.”

Premier Doug Ford announced the pay premium last month and has touted it as a way of recognizing the sacrifices essential workers make as they fight the spread of COVID-19. It included a $4 hourly raise over the next four months and a monthly bonus of $250 if they work more than 100 hours in a month.

The bonus was to be offered to staff at long-term care homes, retirement homes, emergency shelters, supportive housing, social services congregate care settings, corrections institutions and youth justice facilities, home and community care providers and some staff in hospitals.

The program was later expanded to include more workers such as public health nurses and paramedics. The provincial government has said 350,000 workers are eligible for the pay premium.

Hurley said under the province’s emergency hospital staffing orders any worker could also be redeployed to a front-line role or a long-term care home to fight the virus.

The simple solution is to cover all hospital workers and not pick and choose between professions, he said.

“We’re saying you should cover all the health-care workforce,” he said. “Because otherwise you’re left with this residue of bitterness when what was intended was a thank you and a positive message.”

The Ontario Hospital Association would also like to see all hospital workers receive the pay premium. A spokeswoman said Tuesday that group has communicated that recommendation to the government.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is in discussions with a number of professional groups not included in the pay premium program, which she suggested could be expanded. She said she hopes to have the payments flowing to Ontario’s hospitals when those talks are resolved.

“We want everyone who has been a front-line care provider to be recognized with this small token of financial assistance,” she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it’s disappointing that the government didn’t cast its net more broadly when it rolled out the program.

“It’s easy to talk about our front-line heroes and health-care heroes,” she said. “But that language and that passion has to translate into real differences for folks who are on the front lines.”

Horwath said the payments should be retroactive to March 11, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press