QUEEN’S PARK — On Tuesday, NDP Health critic France Gélinas was joined by frontline nurses to announce the reintroduction of a bill that would protect health care workers who speak out about violence in their workplace.
The Speaking Out About Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment Act would protect nurses, health care workers and other workers from employer reprisals when they speak out about violence or harassment in their workplace and require hospitals and long-term care homes to publicly report on workplace violence and harassment.
“My bill will protect workers from reprisal for speaking out against violence or harassment,” said Gélinas. “No one should head to work worried about being assaulted. Even more so, no one’s career should be negatively affected for raising concerns about their personal safety or dignity. This is especially true in health care, where workers are being forced to experience the brunt of public frustration caused by an overburdened and understaffed health care system. This is wrong, it’s hurting our health care workers, and it must change.”
Gélinas’ bill amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act to prevent any penalty of any kind from being used against an employee for speaking out about violence or harassment. Gélinas said that would encourage workers to speak out when violence and harassment happens, instead of staying silent.
“Unfortunately, in many Ontario hospitals and other health care settings, workplace violence is too often swept under the rug. Nurses and other health care workers are left to feel like they’re being told that physical and verbal harassment is just part of the job. Violence should never be part of the job.” said Gélinas.
In July 2022, the Canadian Union of Public Employees released the results of a poll conducted by Oracle Research which showed a disturbing surge in physical and sexual violence against the women who make up 85 per cent of hospital workers. The survey found that 71 per cent of racialized workers report being subject to harassment or abuse because of their race or appearance. Further, 49 per cent of all categories of hospital workers experience sexual harassment and 36 per cent experience sexual assault. Another alarming fact is that 18 per cent report an increase in the use of guns or knives against staff.
Dave Verch, RPN, vice-president for Eastern Ontario, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions states, “Every day, hundreds of hospital nurses, PSWs, cleaners, doctors, clerical, paramedical and other staff are hit, sexually assaulted, racially attacked, and verbally harassed in Ontario. Seventy-one per cent of racialized workers report they are subject to harassment or abuse because of race or appearance; 63% of all workers experience physical violence; 49% of all workers experience sexual harassment; 36% of all workers experience sexual assault. And yet, health care workers have been threatened and fired for speaking up about the problem of violence. The NDP legislation addresses this in a serious way and is overdue.”
DJ Sanderson, RN, Region 3 vice president, Ontario Nurses’ Association says, “Nurses and health-care professionals put their lives on the line every single day to protect the people of Ontario, and yet rampant workplace violence and harassment continues to take a punishing toll on their mental and physical well-being. The government must play an active role in ensuring that nurses and health-care professionals have safe working conditions. It is a fact that workplace violence and harassment continue to be grossly underreported in health care and this must change. We must have an accurate depiction of the huge number of incidents so we can better prevent workplace violence once and for all.”