Call by Ontario healthcare unions to better protect staff against workplace violence

Unions say there will be a mass exodus of skilled employees if nothing changes

The Ford government and Ontario hospitals are being called on the carpet by two healthcare unions to do a better job to protect staff against workplace violence.

CUPE and SEIU Healthcare, which represent 70,000 hospital workers, said if nothing changes there will be a mass exodus of skilled employees.

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, pointed out that as these workers remain on the front-lines of COVID-19, caring for and saving lives, they shouldn’t also have to worry about being physically harmed by a patient or a patient’s family member.

“But shamefully, because of the lack of protections and support from our hospitals and the Ontario government, this is their reality. And it’s more common than the hospitals want you to know.”

Michael Hurley of CUPE said the frequency of incidents is creating a toxic work environment.

“Violence shows up often as a key issue demoralizing the workforce,” he said.

The violence has taken the form of racially directed abuse, sexual assault and harassment, verbal abuse and physical assault, according to Hurley.

Both unions have been bargaining with the Ontario Hospital Association since June to land a new contract for hospital workers. Following mediation, talks broke off in September.

Stewart said protecting front-line workers is not a priority for hospital CEOs or the Ford government.

“Increased workplace violence, staffing shortages, worker burnout — they are all connected and we urgently need solutions because things are getting worse every day. Ontario hospitals are broken,” she noted.