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University Hospital nurse call for equitable pay amid protest against Ontario’s Bill 124

Around 100 nurses participated in a convoy across London to protest of Bill 124, demanding pay equity. June 25, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Around 100 nurses participated in a convoy across London, Ont., Thursday to protest Bill 124, demanding pay equity.

The government passed Bill 124 in November 2019, limiting the wage increases of all public sector workers to one per cent in each of the next three years. The bill affects more than a million workers at school boards, universities and colleges, hospitals, long-term care homes and other organizations.

“We are just looking for equal rights for nurses, we are an essential work, and we deserve to be recognized for that,” said University Hospital nurse Allison Mckeen.

Mckeen told Global News they want to be treated fairly, along with the other essential workers already exempt from the bill like police officers and firefighters.

Read more: ‘We promote the best person for the job and, quite often, that’s a woman’: A surge in Shuswap female firefighters

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“We are not devaluing the work they do in any way, shape, or form; we just want to be treated as equals.”

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The convoy of cars started at the south end of the city and proceeded up Wellington Street and then Richmond Street, before stopping in the North end near Masonville Mall.

Nurses have been on the front lines of coronavirus pandemic and have been praised by Premier Doug Ford for the essential work they are providing.

Read more: Research to examine emotional well-being of physicians, nurses during pandemic

A statement from the Office of the President of the Treasury Board said they “are taking decisive action to ensure our heroic frontline workers are being recognized for their work through programs like pandemic pay.”

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“The government remains committed to protecting public sector jobs and the fiscal health of the province. Bill 124 is designed to protect public sector jobs and vital frontline services, which are essential in our fight against COVID-19.”

However, nurses say Bill 124 is a separate issue from the temporary pandemic pay.

Click to play video 'Nurses in Peterborough protest Bill 124' Nurses in Peterborough protest Bill 124
Nurses in Peterborough protest Bill 124 – Jun 15, 2020

The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said in a statement it was ‘deeply saddened’ by the impact the bill was having on their contraction negotiations.

The year 2020 was named by the World Health Organization “The Year of the Nurse,” but registered nurse at Victoria Hospital and ONA Union representative, Rebecca Jesney says instead, they feel exhausted and defeated.

Read more: London Health Sciences Centre staff protest pandemic pay exclusion

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According to Statista, 92 per cent of all nurses in Canada are female. Jesney says it’s also an issue of gender inequality compared with other male-dominated essential services.

By comparison, fewer than five per cent of firefighters in Canada are women, according to statistics, and only 22 per cent are police officers.

“Female dominated professions really struggle to try to ask for more.”

Read more: Teachers’ unions to announce legal challenge against Bill 124 Thursday

“Ten or 12 years ago, I would say police officers and firefighters had a fairly comparable wage to us, but since then, the wage gap has just grown and grown,” Jesney said.

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“This not necessarily about money, it’s not about pandemic pay; it’s about getting the respect and being paid equitably to our male counterparts.”

The Ontario Nurses Association has started a petition to urge the government to remove them from Bill 124.

— With Files from Travis Dhanraj, Global News