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Nurses' union says $5,000 retention bonus 'a slap in the face'

A union leader says the government could hire 12,000 nurses with the money it is giving away by cancelling the license plate sticker program
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The union representing Ontario's nurses says a retention bonus announced by the provincial government is a slap in the face for health care professionals and won't stop those suffering from burn out from leaving the profession.

The retention bonus was announced earlier this week by the provincial government and offers a $5,000 lump sum for eligible full-time nurses working in the province, while eligible part-time and casual nurses will receive the same amount split into two payments.

The timing of that second payment is one of the issues the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) has with the province's bonus, said the union's vice-president Angela Preocanin. It will only be made to eligible nurses on Sept. 1, months after the next election.

Another issue for ONA is that the bonus is being offered instead of fair negotiations. In 2019 the provincial government passed Bill 124, which limited wage increases to one per cent for three years.

“To say we are disappointed would be too mild," said Preocanin. "We are angry, we are screaming angry at this. This is just a slap in the face to our members."

Preocanin said many nurses are burned out after two full years of the pandemic and members of the mostly female-dominated profession make less than their front line counterparts in firefighting and policing.

"What we need is to have Bill 124 repealed, that would be a greater incentive versus this supposed retention bonus. This is not going to stop nurses from leaving, for sure. The $5,000 is not going to cut it," she said. "If we could actually negotiate fair wages, safe working conditions and safe patient ratios. Those are the things that would help to keep nurses, not $5,000 split over two periods and one conveniently is in September, long after the election is done.

Sault Area Hospital currently employs 669 nurses. If all are eligible for the bonus it would represent a $3,345,000 investment in that facility alone. It is the largest single employer of nurses in the Algoma Region.

“The ministry has provided this incentive as a retention strategy and we are very appreciative of that, from a nursing point of view," said Sue Roger, SAH's vice-president of Clinical Operations and Chief Nursing Officer.

Roger said last year there was a modest uptick in the number of nurses at SAH who left the job behind.

“Over the pandemic we have had a higher-than usual rate of staff leaving the organization, but it’s also been an opportune time for people who have been perhaps ready for retirement or didn’t think they were ready for retirement," said Roger. "But when we entered the second year of the pandemic we did see some folks starting to make some different decisions, certainly."

Roger said the hospital is looking into a number of possibilities for recruitment of new nurses. She welcomes an announcement by Sault College earlier this week that it will soon offer a standalone four-year nursing degree program.

“All through your nursing education you require clinical placement for the experiential learning component and folks come into the hospital, even in their very first year," said Roger. "So we will welcome those students and take all of those students into the hospital over the course of their four years of training."

Preocanin said it is disappointing the province will not let nurses in the province negotiate a fair contract, considering it is sitting on more than $1 billion in unspent health care spending, according to a recent report by the financial accountability office.

She also noted the province is losing an additional $1 billion by cancelling the license plate sticker program.

"The money that they are going to save on the sticker program, they could hire 12,000 nurses with the money that they would have from that program that they are not going to have anymore," she said.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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