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Health workers situation “pathetic”: union boss

“Washing dishes at the Kuujjuaq Inn looks like a lot less dangerous.”


The situation of health and social workers in Nunavik is “pathetic” said Michelle Audy, a hospital laboratory technician at Kuujjuaq’s Tulattavik hospital.

And, if there’s no improvement, workers will leave in droves, said Audy, the president of the local union for Ungava Bay’s health and social services workers, who also sits on Quebec’s largest CSN union, the Conféderation des syndicats nationaux.

Many health and social services workers hired from the South will leave Nunavik because they don’t receive decent pay or working conditions, Audy said in an interview.

And locals will continue to shun jobs in health and social services because they can receive better working conditions and benefits elsewhere, she said.

“Washing dishes at the Kuujjuaq Inn looks like a lot less dangerous for your physical and mental health, and there’s not a big difference in the pay,” Audy said

The difficulty in finding and keeping health and social services workers explains why there’s no physiotherapist for the Ungava Bay, why a single youth protection caseworker has responsibility for Tasiujaq, Aupaluk and part of Kuujjuaq, and why Kuujjuaq’s Tulattavik hospital was without a x-ray services last week when the two overworked radiology technicians both fell sick at the same time.

The unbearable working conditions cited by youth protection caseworkers in the Ungava Bay are the norm everywhere in the health and social services sector in Nunavik, Audy said.

If Quebec wants to recruit more people to work in Nunavik’s health and social services, it needs take care of them, she said.

Bad housing, which means some workers have to share dwellings and makes others endure substandard housing, is a definite problem, she said.

One staff unit had slash marks from an axe hacked into its door.

“If you recruit a worker who’s 25 years old, it’s not reassuring, even if you know these marks were made 25 years ago. For someone who doesn’t know that happened, it’s more disturbing,” she said.

Since 2007, Quebec has built new staff housing units for health and social services workers, but barely enough to satisfy the existing waiting list of employees who needed staff housing, she said.

As part of the package to improve health and social services in Nunavik, the region also needs see more social housing built for Nunavimmiut to create a more healthy environment, Audy said— a demand supported last May by 1,500 delegates to the CSN union’s annual general meeting.

To improve recruitment and retention, the union wants to see the following measures:

  • a bonus of up to $22,000 for all health and social services professionals, similar to that received by doctors, nurses and teachers in Nunavik;
  • better training and orientation for all new hires;
  • a release option (called a “congé nordique” or “northern break”) for health and social services staff in southern Quebec who are willing to work temporarily in Nunavik;
  • better housing, local transportation and communications;
  • vacation allowance travel benefits, including local hires; and,
  • an employee support program.

Youth protection workers are also angry that temporary hires, brought in as consultants, receive more pay and better working conditions.

This creates disparities, which are “troubling, disturbing and insulting,” they said in a June 11 letter to the director of youth protection for the Ungava region.

“By creating two classes of employees, you are putting in place an unjust system which puts into casts doubt on the credibility of our work in the eyes out other health and social services staff in Nunavik.”

They say consultants should be paid at the same rate they are and work under the same conditions.

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