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3,000 Ontario community health care workers on strike

WATCH: Close to 3,000 health care workers are on strike battling a proposed salary freeze. Christina Stevens reports.

TORONTO – Nearly 3,000 of the province’s community health workers went on strike Friday morning.

As of today, employees at the Ontario’s Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) are on the picket lines: North East, North West, Central East, Central, North Simcoe Muskoka, Waterloo Wellington, South East, South West and Erie St. Clair.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) says CCACs members had a two-year wage freeze in their last contract, which expired March 31, 2014, and are seeking a “nominal” wage increase of 1.4 per cent in the first year of the collective agreement.

“The employers for the CCASs are refusing to step up to the plate and provide these 3,000 essential community health care professional the same type of contract that has already been awarded or negotiated for our 57,000 other nurses and health professionals in Ontario,” said ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud.

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“They’re asking for a wage freeze in the first year of the collective agreement. We have done our duty. We’ve had two years of wage freezes.”

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The striking workers include nurses, nurse practitioners, registered practical nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, and occupational and speech therapists.

Nurses picketing Friday at Southlake Hospital in Newmarket say the contract dispute is about equality.

“My colleagues and I deserve to be getting the same pay that nurses in hospitals do and they know that,” said community care coordinator Linda Stride.

Nine of the 10 bargaining units have voted to strike, with workers at Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant having ratified a new agreement.

A statement released on behalf of Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the province has increased funding for CCACs by five per cent over the last two years, as well as adding $270 million this year.

“Even with these increases, we have asked our public sector partners, including employers and bargaining agents, to work together to control costs so that we can continue to invest in expanding access to services for Ontario families and patients,” Hoskins said.

The province also ensured services will not be disrupted during the contract dispute.

“CCACs will continue to work closely with hospital partners to ensure patients are able to transition home from hospital safely,” the statement read.

“Patients receiving care in homes, schools and clinics will continue to receive these services as per their individualized care plans.”

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In a written statement, Ontario NDP health critic France Gelinas pointed the blame for the strike on the governing Liberals.

“Under this Liberal government, home care patients already wait too long for too little service and most experience disruptions in their care,” she said.

“The best way to protect patient care and respect frontline healthcare professionals represented by ONA is to reach a negotiated agreement. I urge both parties to return to the table and to resume negotiations.”

The CCACs provide people access to professional health care services, such as nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy and dietetic services, for children with special needs who require assistance in public schools.

They are funded by the provincial government through Local Health Integration Networks.