Health Minister Deb Matthews told the London Free Press December 13 that “the public sector has not felt the pain of this recession as others have,” defending the decision to freeze the wages of non-union staff at London Health Sciences.
To say the statement is unfair may be a considerable understatement. While the private sector may have felt some pain in the last two years, the reality is health care workers in the public sector have never stopped feeling the pain from the last recession.
Hospital workers have taken more than a decade to recover from the wage freezes of the 1990s. Hospitals have been reducing their front-line staff while coping with an increase in patient care. In Peterborough the hospital is shedding more than 350 jobs in the process of balancing its budget. We have seen bed closures, outpatient clinics axed, programs cut, and a de-skilling of the workforce under continual financial pressure.
Rob Devitt, CEO of the Toronto East General Hospital, recently told a Longwoods Forum that generally, staff satisfaction in the hospital sector is bad. While taking home a ‘best employer’ award for his hospital, Devitt said it was easy to look good when compared to others in his sector. However, when he looked at the private sector, he was shocked at how poorly his hospital stacked up.
Deb Matthews says “I want the best health care professionals working here, but only want to pay them as much as we need to and not any more than that.”
That’s a little like the Pittsburgh Penguins saying we want Sidney Crosby but we don’t want to pay a penny more than we need to.
The Health Minister may additionally want to take home some recommended reading such as Dr. Linda Duxbury’s study on how role overload is leading health care workers to face anxiety, fatigue, and burnout.
Duxbury defines role overload as a feeling that you have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it.
Canadians in health occupations miss more work due to illness or disability than other occupations. A Canadian Medical Association survey indicates nearly half of Canadian physicians were in an advanced state of burnout.
On top of this, Bill 179 will soon require all regulated health professionals to carry personal insurance over and beyond that of their employers.
And to this the Health Minister feels we should add some more pain?
It’s also not just a matter of how workers have been doing financially over the past two years – it’s the last twenty. The public sector has been dramatically shrinking as a percentage of Canada’s overall economy. At one point the public sector represented 53 per cent of our gross domestic product. Now it’s less than 40 per cent. In the last decade tax cuts have impacted Federal and Provincial budgets by $85 billion per year. That’s not only less money and less staff to provide the services Canadians expect, but its additional stress on those who survived the layoffs and budget cuts.
While the financial sector created the current economic crisis, it is already back to rewarding itself generously. The public sector will never see the kind of pay outs we are already witnessing on Bay Street and Wall Street. Last year bonuses were up on Wall Street by 30 per cent. The provincial government is further rewarding large companies with corporate tax cuts that will amount to $2.4 billion per year when fully implemented. That works out to $500 for every Ontario family that will be lost.
While the party gets restarted in Canada’s boardrooms, we’re being told that public sector workers should sacrifice pay increases that are barely keeping up with inflation.
With all due respect, Ms. Matthews should get out of Queen’s Park and talk with some front line health workers. They can certainly tell her all about pain.