TORONTO, March 14, 2014 /CNW/ - The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) is warning that contract demands tabled by the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) would lead to a nursing crisis reminiscent of the Harris government years. Contract talks broke down when the OHA team walked away from the table, forcing arbitration this weekend. The OHA is proposing unprecedented rollbacks for RNs. The current collective agreement between ONA's 58,000-plus hospital-sector registered nurses (RNs) and their employers expires on March 31.
"The OHA's proposals of cuts to wages and benefits will have a profound effect on the supply of nurses in Ontario that directly impacts the quality of care that Ontarians can expect to receive," said ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud, RN. "The proposed new system of RN wage cuts would send a strong message that registered nurses are not valued and prompt new RN graduates to look south of the border or to other provinces to practice."
Haslam-Stroud is appalled at what has been tabled at arbitration by the employer. She says that, "We will not bargain away our future or our ability to provide quality patient care." ONA is committed to negotiating an agreement that reflects the value RNs provide to the patients of Ontario, and that does not include cutbacks.
"This province, which has the second-worst RN-to-population ratio in the country, needs to attract new nurses and keep the experienced RNs we have now on the job as long as possible. Yet the OHA's arbitration proposals will do exactly the reverse," said Haslam-Stroud. "We know that there is a tsunami of experienced RNs poised to retire, and we can't replace them fast enough. Why - when we desperately need new graduates coming into the system and our Northern and rural communities are begging for more RNs - would we make the profession less attractive and disrespect the years of education and training our members have?"
She also notes that "research - including a very recent study published in The Lancet -- has found that cutting RN care increases the rate of complications and death suffered by patients. Alternatively, increasing RN staffing improves patient health outcomes and prevents unnecessary hospital readmissions."
Unsafe RN staffing levels have become more common as hospitals have cut RN positions to balance budgets; increasingly, RNs are finding they are unable to provide care consistent with the standards set by their regulator. Ontario has cut more than 1,000 RN positions in the past two years.
A long list of nursing expert panel investigations into RN staffing levels - at Rouge Valley Health System, Kingston General Hospital, Sault Area Hospital, Humber River Regional Hospital, Peterborough Regional Hospital and Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital - have found that RNs are unable to provide proper patient care under current conditions and that the hospital work environments do not support quality nursing practice.
"I'm dumbfounded that at a time when experts are using phrases such as 'significant suffering' to describe the quality and safety of patient care that is occurring because of RN understaffing, the OHA want to worsen it," said Haslam-Stroud. "The Ontario government and the OHA are telling RNs that they are worth less than they were a year ago. They should instead focus on ensuring that our patients get the safe, quality care they deserve, not on gutting RN contracts."
Ontario RNs have been falling further behind in remuneration compared to the rest of Canada. ONA members' wages were frozen for two years in their last contract and now a three per-cent rollback of wages has now been proposed. The lack of a competitive wage would also likely drive experienced RNs to retire, compounding the nursing shortage. "Asking nurses to be paid less than ever is a slap in the face to the entire profession and to Ontarians," she says.
ONA is the union representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners, registered practical nurses and allied health professionals, as well as nursing student affiliates providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.
SOURCE: Ontario Nurses' Association