Especially the most heroic front-liners of all: the nurses. And most especially, the 68,000 nurses working in Ontario hospitals who still haven’t seen a penny of their $4.00 an hour pandemic pay, who are forbidden from taking vacation and whose contract has been put on hold.

In May, Premier Ford hailed nurses as the “heroes on the front-line of our health-care system.” Earlier this month, an arbitrator awarded the province’s nurses a pay increase of less than 1%.  This is part of Ontario’s effort to rein in salaries for essential workers, which is laudable but deeply flawed, and not just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. But because Ontario’s nurses have actually had their wages cut by more than 4% since 2010.

Back last December when Queen’s Park tabled Bill 124, it specifically exempted police and firefighters.  It’s easy to see why nurses think this is an attack on them and especially on women.

This year, Ontario’s firefighters, whose membership is 97% male, will receive a 2.5% wage increase. The Ontario Provincial Police, whose membership is 78% male, will get a 2.22% increase. Meanwhile, the province’s teachers (26% male) are limited to a 1.00% increase, and nurses (7% male) will get even less, 0.94%.

There’s no question of who is ‘more essential’ during a pandemic. Nurses are.

And looking into the health-care and long-term care tragedies this pandemic has created, it doesn’t look like their value will decline any time soon.

But when we’re not all hiding from a plague, it’s pretty clear where nurses stand in terms of their pay.

If you join the OPP, you’ll get $54,000 from Day 1 of your training, and the day you graduate, that rises to $68,800. After three years on the job. First Class Constables make $98,355. These figures are from 2018, so there are now scads of OPP Constables making $100,000 a year plus.

Meanwhile, the average salary of a Toronto firefighter this year is $75,000.

If you’re a newly graduated nurse, you’ll make $58,830 a year, rising to $78,000 a year after 25 years of service.

I know these numbers aren’t apples-to-apples, but they not only point to how we value nurses’ work, but how we devalue women.

Because when you look at the discrepancies in frontline compensation for all essential workers, they didn’t just happen when the pandemic came along. They’ve been around for years.

A decade ago in 20ll, nurses got a 1% salary increase. That same year, both the police and firefighters got a raise of 3.19%. By 2015, nurses were getting 1.4% more than the year before, while police got 2.65% and firefighters, 2.75%. This is not only a large gap, it’s a reliably annual one. In fact, in the past decade, salary increases for nurses have never come close to what the police and firefighters get.

I’m not saying we should value the work of our police and firefighters less; I’m saying we should value the work of our nurses more.

Police and firefighters get ‘danger pay’ because their jobs are inherently risky. But these days, whose job is more risky than a nurse?

So what about education? Well, to be a police officer or firefighter in Ontario, it’s nice if you have a university degree; to be a Registered Nurse, you must have a university degree.

Someone soon is going to make the case for systemic sexism.

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19 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – IT’S A LOT EASIER TO SAY “HEROES” THAN TO PAY THEM”

  1. Systemic sexism is precisely what it is. Nursing provides women with the flexibility to vary their schedule to accommodate child rearing. Teaching also offers a good lifestyle choice for mothers who recognize that stretch of time to focus on family in the summer is good for everyone.
    These are strong motivators for entering those professions which, as you point out, require a higher level of education than policing or firefighting. Should they accept the inherent lifestyle advantages – a flexible schedule or an 8 week summer break – as a form of compensation? Absolutely not.

  2. Working in health care can be as dangerous as being a firefighter (most of whom have a second occupation because of the way their shifts are scheduled) or a police officer. Maybe no guns and flames but just as ‘frontline’ with or without pandemics. The pay inequality IS sexist – and exemplifies how employment which is traditionally female (which also includes teaching) is underpaid and undervalued – right up there with full time at home mothers who are also underpaid and undervalued.
    It enrages me to think how hard it is to fight for parity.

    1. I can;t understand why the mainline media hasn’t picked up on this….it’s not exactly hidden, Jamie.

  3. Clare F Beckton

    Good piece Bob I agree fully with you about an increase for nurses because of the work that they do everyday of the year on the frontlines. Just one small things- most, if not all police forces require a degree or equivalent these days. The focus needs to be on the vital work that our nurses do in our healthcare system- without them the system could not function. Nurses not only risk getting sick but they also risk burnout because of the daily work loads and stresses that they face which has been amplified during the pandemic.

  4. such cogent arguments Bob….for sure your article should rate a higher profile and circulation….have you thought of sending it to the Canadian Nurses Association, Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, College of Nurses of Ontario, Ontario Nurses Association??? It would be interesting to see what they did with it. As a retired nurse (PhD Nursing) who’s been involved in policy, research and education for more than 50 years, this disparity has been long standing as has the advocacy for changes in nurses’ wages, benefits and scope of practice. Thanks for shining a light on the situation!

  5. Infuriating. And it IS a damn good post. And thank you Alex Brown for reading so beautifully. Lovely voice and diction. No matter the topic, you are a pleasure to listen to.

    Thank you Bob. How do you manage so many posts in a week? Do you sleep?
    – Maggie

    1. Maggie — Thanks so much for checking in and for your very kind words about Alex, who is my managing director and one day asked: “Could I read a post?” The rest is history !

      I began writing these posts to give me a reason to get out of bed in March…and they’ve taken on a life of their own.



  6. Nicola Morgan

    As a Registered Nurse working in a downtown Hospital I can only say how glad I am that we are being recognized by all of you. It is very disappointing that we are still waiting for the “Covid pay” for health care workers. The pay structure over the last decade is appauling and I don’t understand why we tolerate it but we do because we’re nurses and we care. Thank you for writing this, I have forwarded it on to some of my nursing colleagues.

  7. Lisa Williams

    Great article with the exception that it assumes the cause is systemic sexism. The Ontario nurse’s union has done an abysmal job of bringing this issue to the forefront. It could well be that the unions representing the police and firefighters have done a better job on behalf of their members and their pay increases reflect this. My daughter is a RN, I am more than empathetic to the obvious injustice of the numbers but to assume everything is about the basic mistreatment of women is a bit of a stretch in today’s Canada. Not everyone is a victim; there are potential other reasons for a particular outcome.

    1. Lisa — Thanks for writing. I’m certain that the police and fire fighter unions are incredibly strong.
      In my next blog on the subject, I’ll be mindful not to think every union is as aggressive in fighting for its
      members’ rights.

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