In Quebec's latest effort to retain nurses in the public sector, the province is expected to impose new measures that would make working in private nursing agencies less attractive.
Nurses have said the poor working conditions in the province's public health-care system have pushed them into the private sector, which offers better pay and more flexible hours.
But according to Radio-Canada, this week, the government plans to force private agencies to fill less favourable shifts, such as evening, overnight and weekend shifts — a move that's left some in the health-care system divided.
"It doesn't make sense that I have better working conditions than somebody employed by the public sector, but the solution for that isn't to take away those conditions which are actually keeping a lot of nurses in the profession," said Alex Magdzinski, a nurse in the province's private sector and vice-president of the Quebec Nurses' Association.
Magdzinski used to work in the public sector, but he left in November 2020 to work for a private nursing agency in Nunavik, in northern Quebec, due to the flexibility it offered.
He says instead of trying to make the private system less desirable, the government should be trying to make the public system better.
"Really looking at what can be done with scheduling and flexibility in the public sector is more what the government should be doing rather than trying to eliminate agencies from having that flexibility for their employees," he said.
He added conditions like self-scheduling, better nurse-to-patient ratios and no forced overtime would help retain and entice nurses back into the public sector.
Nurses' union in favour, demands ban on forced OT
The province's largest nurses' union, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), is in favour of the government's plan to prioritize nurses in the public sector, although it believes it should have happened sooner.
"It's the nurses in the public sector that we have asked to put their lives to the side for a long time, so it's only fair that we prioritize them before those in the private sector," said Patrick Guay, vice-president of the FIQ.
Guay said the government's focus should also be on eliminating forced overtime. This weekend, the FIQ took matters into its own hands, with more than 30,000 of its members in a dozen regions refusing to work mandatory overtime.
The union also sent formal notices to local and provincial health authorities, giving them a Nov. 15 deadline to eliminate the practice or face action from the FIQ.
This priority is shared by registered nurse and president of Quebec's Nurses' Association, Natalie Stake-Doucet, who says forced overtime is the main issue.
"[It's] an issue with management, not an issue with the shortage of nurses. It's an issue that we've had for 25 years, no matter the amount of nurses that we've had in the public health-care system," she said.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé has said he hopes to present concrete measures to improve working conditions in the health-care system this week. He said the province is looking at alternatives to mandatory overtime, but getting rid of it isn't something that can happen overnight.
The province says 1,800 nurses have been hired, have come back to work or have moved to full-time positions in the last few weeks after the province promised financial bonuses of up to $18,000 to some nurses. The Health Ministry says it's in discussions with close to 2,400 other potential candidates.
Dubé said nurses want to see a culture change on the job and that he's committed to making that happen.