By Jake Smith, CNN • Updated 7th January 2018
Nathan Phillips was driving home when he heard that nurses at a Canadian hospital were protesting a wage cap bill in Parliament.
“I could tell by the chant, the pictures and the social media posts that nurses were losing their patience with the politicians,” said Phillips, a nurse and former chair of the Patient and Family Friendly Hospital bill in Ontario, which seeks to have Ontario hospitals hire more nurses.
Phillips was just days away from the clinic he manages at St. Joseph’s Health Care in Ottawa when the nurses began to protest. When he arrived, Phillips was struck by the notion that the doctors and nurses were challenging a system they’d helped create.
“Nurses are on different levels of the political ladder from doctors. We’ve helped put them there. We’ve made them something they are now,” he said.
Phillips said that some of the nurses working under the Patient and Family Friendly Bill feel let down by the slow pace of their successes. It’s taken almost 10 years for Ontario hospitals to hire 1,000 nurses under the bill, although this year promises to be a big one.
But Phillips said that to his knowledge, the bill will not be revised after the nurses went on strike last week, an action that ended in a judge-declared shutdown of the hospitals on Saturday. The nurses are calling for an end to a 30-hour cap on minimum wage.
“They aren’t going to be reduced to the position of nurses, whom doctors and politicians are going to continue to rely on as a source of funding,” Phillips said.
On Sunday, a bill that would amend the Patient and Family Friendly Hospital bill failed in the House of Commons by 55 votes to 57.
With nurses across Canada on strike, the nurses’ union NPO Ontario said the cut in minimum wage could actually raise nursing staffing levels.
Despite their frustrations with the bill, Phillips said it’s clear nurses are reaping the benefits of the bill.
“Having the cap-and-trade fund in place is going to allow hospitals to get more back-fill nurses in the short term, to have that hired nurse for the extra shift that they’re losing in the other positions,” he said.
“Even as the cap-and-trade funds are being brought forward and put in place, it’s going to take some time before the nurses who don’t have that cap-and-trade funding can advance their position.”
Phillips said the nurses aren’t putting it all on themselves. They need “a bigger machinery” behind them to push for change.
“There’s no big silver bullet for this right now, there’s only big brick walls on the other side of the street that we need to jump over to get to where we need to go,” he said.
In Ottawa on Tuesday, nurses held their first demonstration in solidarity with their counterparts in British Columbia and Alberta.