Thousands gather in Toronto for massive protest supporting Ontario nurses (PHOTOS/VIDEOS)

Mar 3 2023, 5:30 pm

Solidarity was the word of the day at a mass healthcare protest in downtown Toronto this week, as thousands of medical professionals, labour allies, politicians and other supporters of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) gathered to demand better staffing, better wages and better care for patients at hospitals across the province.

The long, loud day of action kicked off with a rally on Thursday afternoon outside the Sheraton Centre Hotel, where mediation talks were being held between the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) and the nurse’s union.

The ONA, which represents more than 68,000 registered nurses in Ontario, has been bargaining for a new contract with the OHA, which represents 140 public hospitals (their employers), since January.

Nurses are seeking better staffing, better working conditions and better wages after more than a decade of wage stagnation and occupational chaos.

This is the first collective agreement to be negotiated between nurses and their provincially funded employers since the COVID-19 pandemic, and since the passage of 2019’s controversial Bill 124.

Wages are of particular concern for nurses in light of Bill 124, which caps annual wage hikes for many public sector workers in Ontario (nurses included) at 1%.

“A better contract for nurses is the single best thing we can do to address staffing issues and improve our public hospital care for patients,” said ONA Interim Provincial President and RN Bernie Robinson at the event on Thursday.

“Nurses demand better – for our patients, communities and health care. The community united with us to voice just how urgent the need for a better contract is.”

In a release following Thursday’s protest, the ONA argued that “a better contract with wages that account for more than a decade without a real increase would help stabilize staffing, bring nurses back and attract people into nursing.”

Nurses say that more of the same “inadequate working conditions” will worsen Ontario’s existing hospital staffing crisis and lead to even longer wait times.

The status quo, according to the ONA, also opens the door “for more of Premier Doug Ford’s wasteful privatization measures that only benefit for-profit companies, at the expense of average Ontarians already struggling to pay the bills.”

Protesters took this message with them as they marched along University Avenue, passing through hospital row before staging another rally at Queen’s Park.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of thousands of protesters and advocates, the OHA and ONA did not come to an agreement by the end of their two-day bargaining session on Thursday night.

The groups are now scheduled to enter arbitration in early May.

“This round of negotiations has been incredibly difficult and frustrating,” said Robinson on Friday morning. “Nurses are fed up with this government and employers expressing appreciation for the work we do, while simultaneously failing to provide working conditions that that truly show the value of what we do each day.”

Rachel Muir, registered nurse and chair of the Hospital Central Negotiating Team, said similarly on Friday that “ONA’s team is astonished, insulted and enraged that, despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reach a respectful settlement to bring to our members.”

“The need to recruit and retain nurses is more urgent than it’s ever been. Our nurses and health-care professionals are highly educated and valued by employers in other jurisdictions,” said Robinson after the contract talks broke down.

“They have options – and are leaving the profession, the public sector or the province to work where they receive respect. The actions of this provincial government and now the failure to come to the table with a decent proposal by employers will have profoundly negative consequences for Ontarians and our health-care system.”

Lauren O'NeilLauren O'Neil

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