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.