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Quebec nurses rally across province to end forced overtime

WATCH: Quebec nurses refused to work past their shifts on Monday in an effort to protest mandatory overtime. The nurses say forcing them to work extra hours needs to stop. Global's Raquel Fletcher reports.

Quebec nurses refused to work extra Monday to protest mandatory overtime, a practice they say needs to stop. They are regularly forced to work double shifts even if they haven’t arranged childcare.

“They are taken hostage,” said Roberto Bomba, a spokesperson for the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), the nurses’ federation.

READ MORE: Quebec nurses push for new law to limit nurse-to-patient ratios

Nurses say it is not uncommon that two or three times in a single pay period they are forced to work double shifts.

“You go to work and then you don’t know if you’re going come back taking care of your kids at home,” said Patrick Martin. He and his wife are both nurses in Quebec City, although he now works as a researcher at Université Laval.

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The FIQ said it’s a vicious cycle: a lack of permanent, full-time nurses means forced overtime has become more common.

READ MORE: Quebec health minister, nurses agree to plan to ease workload

“They’re in tears,” said Bomba. “It’s very difficult thinking you’re going home after working an entire night, you’ve been up for almost 24 hours and you have to care for your family, your loved ones, your kids, and someone’s telling you you’re not leaving. You’re there again until 4 p.m. and then you’re back again at midnight.”

That pressure is causing many nurses to quit the field.

“400,000 nurses have left the network in the past four years and that is very concerning, so what we say is we will improve conditions,” said Health Minister Danielle McCann.

READ MORE: Quebec wants to give nurse practitioners more autonomy, responsibility

McCann said it’s her priority is to put an end to mandatory overtime by the end of the CAQ’s first mandate. However, Québec Solidaire points out the government allotted $200 million to hire more nurses and orderlies in care homes — which is about half the money the nurses’ federation demanded. The FIQ asked for $350 million.

“I think she has good intentions and this is really good, but right now it has to go faster,” said Sol Zanetti, Québec Solidaire MNA.

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READ MORE: Quebec government to blame for nursing crisis: patients’ rights advocate

“There were numerous cuts in the healthcare system, I’d say about $1.5 to $1.7 billion dollars of cuts with the previous government, so they’ve reduced staffing, they’ve reduced positions and now we’re trying to play catch-up,” Bomba explained.

Bomba also added that forced overtime can be a serious safety issue for both patients and nurses. He said he has learned of some nurses getting into car accidents after their shifts due to a lack of sleep.