Hamilton Health Sciences employees call for inclusion in coronavirus ‘pandemic pay’

Health-care workers demonstrated in front of Hamilton General Hospital on Thursday afternoon to call for more hospital employees to be included in the Province of Ontario’s pandemic pay increase.

Drivers passing by the corner of Barton Street and Victoria Avenue honked their horns as Hamilton Health Sciences employees called on the Ford government to expand the list of who receives the extra $4 per hour salary increase.

The demonstration was held during a shift change at the hospital, and coincided with similar actions taken by other Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members at hospitals and long-term care homes across the province.

Dave Murphy, president of CUPE Local 7800, said the pandemic pay increase should apply to anyone who works in a hospital and may be at risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, including dietary aides, maintenance workers, clerical and administrative staff, pharmacy technicians, lab staff, and social workers.

“They’re in there every day, facing the same tasks as everybody else,” said Murphy.

“To start selecting, ‘You get it, you don’t get it’, that’s not right.”

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“Everybody that enters that hospital should be getting that wage.”

Many of those employees are also isolating from their families, changing out of the clothes they wear to work, and living with the anxiety of potentially spreading the virus to loved ones.

“There’s quite a risk that they’re taking, and then just to be excluded from this, they feel it’s a slap in the face.”

Another concern of CUPE is a lack of personal protective equipment for those workers who are at risk of exposure to the virus and are working in close quarters with COVID-19 patients.

“A lot of people go in and clean the rooms, and the rooms have had a patient in there, or the patient is still in there, and they get just a basic mask for them to go in, we say that’s not sufficient. And if you have to do a work refusal until you get the proper PPE to protect yourself, it’s a right that you have.”

CUPE is calling on the provincial government to order the General Motors plant in Oshawa to begin production of N95 masks, which is being done at the General Motors plant in Warren, Michigan.

Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, was among those showing his support during Thursday’s demonstration.

“It’s funny how we’re calling all these front-line workers heroes, but nobody’s recognizing that heroic capacity with a few extra dollars during this pandemic,” said Marco.

“These workers are rightfully out here, saying that, ‘Inasmuch as you want to give this group of people extra money, we’re also on the front lines every single day under the same risks. Why aren’t we included in this as well?’”

During the Ford government’s Thursday announcement about Stage One of reopening the province, Health Minister Christine Elliott was asked why front line health-care workers have not yet received the additional pandemic pay.

She said the delay is part of the ongoing process to determine who else should be receiving the salary top-up.

“What we’ve found is that there are many groups that were included, of course, in the pandemic pay,” said Elliott. “But there are others who feel that they should have been included.”

“We want to make sure that we have a consolidated response, and then, of course, people will be paid.”

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