FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

April 28: a day of commemoration that sets the stage for mobilization

April 28: a day of commemoration that sets the stage for mobilization

April 28 is a national and international day of commemoration for workers who suffered work accidents, illnesses, injuries or were killed in the workplace.  

On that note, healthcare professionals have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for the health crisis. They have paid with their health and safety. More than ever now, they are understaffed, work MOT, and are moved from one centre of activities to another without warning and often without training.  

The battle for adequate means of protection to prevent the airborne transmission of COVID-19 was also decisive. Despite broader deployment of N95 masks following numerous union battles, there is still a risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 in the workplace. The rate of absenteeism and number of outbreaks in care units are the proof.  

“As we have seen over the last two years, the availability of protective equipment has depended on employers’ goodwill. This protective equipment should have been widely available. This unacceptable situation was allegedly caused by an equipment shortage and led to thousands of preventable cases of COVID-19 among healthcare professionals. It’s unacceptable!” 

Isabelle Groulx, Vice-President, FIQ Occupational Health and Safety Sector

The FIQ, FIQP, and their affiliated unions highlight the engagement, courage, and determination of healthcare professionals in caring for the population, as well as for protecting their right to work in a safe environment that doesn’t endanger their mental or physical health. 

The day of April 28 in brief

It was in 1991 that the Canadian parliament passed the Workers Mourning Day Act and thus April 28 became the National Day of Mourning. In Canada, April 28 was also the day the Workers’ Compensation Act was passed in 1914. The International Labour Organization has been commemorating the World Day for Safety and Health at Work since April 28, 2001. 

Officially, this day is intended to commemorate workers who were killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards, as well as to highlight and revive the commitment of the union movement and employers to improve occupational health and safety. 

Some perspectives on accidents, illnesses, COVID-19, etc.

The health and safety of healthcare professionals was already a serious issue before the health crisis significantly increased injuries in the medical and social services sector. Data from the CNESST are extremely worrisome. The data shows that the number of work accidents in this sector rose from 18,205 in 2019 to 31,790 in 2020, which is an approximately 43% increase in one year.  

This increase is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, a significant percentage of COVID-19 cases and psychological injuries that occurred while working are not reported or accepted as employment injuries. In 2020 (the most recent available data), seven deaths were recorded in the category of medical personnel, health technicians and equivalent workers.  

As of January 14, 2022, while the first wave of the Omicron variant was still unfurling, approximately 72,000 workers in the Quebec health system contracted COVID-19. At the same time, approximately 150,000 workers in the Canadian health system had been infected. That means that Quebec alone accounted for around 47.72% of infected healthcare workers in Canada when it only represented 22% of the Canadian population. Another alarming finding: by the same date, Quebec’s healthcare personnel who had contracted COVID-19 represented 9.1% of the total number of infections in Quebec, in contrast with only 3.3% in Ontario

The 6th wave continues to overwhelm the health network. The fact that the government trivializes COVID-19 and refuses to adopt structured preventive health and safety measures has serious consequences on healthcare professionals.  On April 24, 2022, 9,362 health workers, including a high number of healthcare professionals, are absent from work for reasons directly related to COVID-19. These absences put added pressure on the health and safety of healthcare professionals who are still on the front line, which in turn compromises service quality.  

In addition to these  9,362 were those absent for reasons such as exhaustion worsened by the health crisis or injuries related to musculoskeletal disorders exacerbated by the work overload.  

In the context of the 6th wave, we can also measure the importance of fortifying our prevention efforts based on the data provided by the INSPQ. As of April 24, 2022, Quebec had 2,345 hospitalizations related to COVID-19. With the exception of in early 2022 when Omicron was rapidly spreading, there had never been such a high number of hospitalizations during previous waves. In comparison, the first wave crested in May 2020 with just under 1,900 hospitalizations and the wave in January 2021 crested with just under 1,500 hospitalizations.  

In addition to the contamination rate of health workers and the number of hospitalizations, psychological distress is also one of the primary repercussions of the pandemic on healthcare professionals.  

In a study published in April 2021, the INSPQ highlighted the following: 

  • Approximately half of the study’s respondents who had contracted COVID-19 said that they had a high to very high level of psychological distress. In comparison, this percentage was 27% among Quebec workers between 2014-2015.
  • The respondents are exposed to significant psychosocial risks. These health and safety risk factors include the precarious balance between professional and personal obligations, the lack of time and means to perform work in compliance with one’s professional ethics, and the very high level of psychological requirements.
  • Psychological distress is more highly correlated with exposure to psychosocial risks than with contracting the illness. Taking preventive action means urgently changing the workload.

Consequently, for the FIQ, April 28 is not only a day of recollection and commemoration. The health crisis needs to be a wake-up call. The health and social services network employers should immediately take responsibility and prioritize occupational health and safety.   

The best way to show solidarity with our fellow sisters who have died, been injured or become ill at work is to take action. Healthcare professionals and their unions are making increased efforts to mobilize and organize union action around occupational health and safety.  

Here are some examples of collective actions taken by healthcare professionals and their unions to protect their occupational health and safety! 

The Act and the role of healthcare professionals in prevention 

For healthcare professionals and their unions to be able to fully participate in prevention work, health and social services network employers absolutely must deploy the mechanisms set out in the Act to modernize the occupational health and safety regime.  

Despite some advances because of this Act, the CNESST needs to clarify and orient the RSSS’s workplaces so that we can properly deploy these mechanisms and protect the health and safety of healthcare professionals.  

Because of the successive mergers, health network institutions are now the biggest and most complex workplaces in Quebec. For prevention to maintain a human scale and be effective, the CNESST must ensure that employers consult labour organizations in order to jointly develop a realistic and effective plan to deploy the mechanisms provided for in the Act. 

The CNESST must also set a regulation determining the minimum threshold for the application of these mechanisms. The regulation will determine the minimum number of hours of leave for workers’ health and safety representatives and even the frequency of health and safety committee meetings. It is essential that these provisions be enough to facilitate a true joint prevention approach in the RSSS. 

“Right now there is a window of opportunity. There is leverage within our reach to take preventive action using mechanisms that have proven successful in other sectors. These mechanisms should have been applied in the RSSS long ago.”

Isabelle Groulx, Vice-President, FIQ Occupational Health and Safety Sector

FIQ and FIQP union reps and members are mobilizing to obtain a regulation that is strong enough to address the issues they face. We will be vigilant and determined in ensuring that the network employers fulfil their new OHS obligations and that they work jointly with healthcare professionals and their unions.