Thousands of Quebecers answered the premier’s call for help last June and applied to become medical orderlies, better known as PAB’s in Quebec, to help fight COVID-19.
More than 5,300 graduated last month from the government’s intensive three-month program, and while many have already started working, the premier is disputing the claim that they’re now quitting their jobs over what they call the government’s broken promises.
“It’s not true … I think there’s some thing like 30 who decided to leave and it’s normal because it’s a tough job,” said Premier François Legault on Tuesday afternoon, while denying that they’re leaving over broken promises and insisting that they can make what amounts to $26 an hour with added premiums.
“I will repeat that, for at least the 25th time, they will receive the pay they are supposed to receive which is $49,000 a year.”
But in reality, the basic hourly wage is $20.55, according to the unions and two employees who preferred to remain anonymous. They claim it’s nearly impossible to receive the premiums since they require that employees never call in sick, never arrive late, work evenings and nights and have cases of COVID-19 in the building.
What’s more, many say they didn’t realize they would have to reimburse the government if they didn’t give at least one year of service.
“It’s practically a deal with the devil,” said Marie-Anne Goupil, one of the thousands to answer the premier’s call for help on June 15. “No one thought it would go this far.”
The sales representative was ready to give up one year of her life to help the elderly, a dream she has had since working in a psychiatric ward in her home province of New Brunswick in the early ’90s. But like many new recruits, she feels cheated.
“Some of them would like to leave but they can’t leave because you know they got that $9,000 that they need to reimburse.”
According to an invoice dated Aug. 25, Goupil owes the Quebec government $6,140 for a PAB training she started in June but never completed.
She refuses to pay, claiming she was unjustly kicked out of the program after speaking out publicly about the staff-patient ratios in CHSLDs and about the government’s broken promises.
“When I signed up it was for $26, not $20.55 plus, plus, plus,” said the 51-year-old. “Why couldn’t he just be transparent and say the real thing.”
The union representing thousands pf PABs working on the West Island claims many more orderlies will likely leave, if working conditions and salaries for all aren’t improved.
“There’s a reason why the government raised the salary, because they realize as we in multiple unions have been saying for years, it is a difficult job that requires a certain skill set and the job conditions weren’t enough to attract and retain people,” said CUPE union representative Stephen Brown.
“If the government wants to be able to attract and retain thousands of people they can do something very simple which is just pay everybody a better wage,” said Brown, adding that the premiums are confusing for everyone.
“It’s having some negative impacts,” Brown told Global News.
Goupil is still waiting for answers from the health ministry and suspects that another reason she may have been kicked out of the program is that she complained to the school after one of her teachers uttered a racist remark.
“For some awkward reason she thought it was really funny to call me ‘ma noir’, which is basically I guess ‘my black.’ I don’t even know the translation for it,” said Goupil, who claims she completed her training and internship but wasn’t allowed to take the final exam.
While she has returned to her former employment in sales, she’s determined to fight for her rights to understand why she was forced to give up her plans to help.
“You’re not allowed to kick me out and wave my rights just like that,” said Goupil. “I will fight this as long as I can because I’ve put a lot of hours a lot of years to build up my reputation.”
Government officials haven’t yet responded to our requests for comment in Goupil’s case.