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We will not be silenced on workplace violence

We the North
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A statement from the OPSEU Mental Health Division on the firing of Sue McIntrye, RPN

The first step to ending violence in the workplace is recognizing it and speaking up when it happens. OPSEU’s Mental Health Division is well aware of the workplace violence our own members experience. We are working to raise awareness and take action to end it.  

That is why we stand in solidarity with Sue McIntyre, a CUPE member and Registered Practical Nurse who was fired from the North Bay Regional Health Centre recently. McIntyre was terminated after she spoke on a panel discussion at a health care conference about patient violence against nurses. Her union is challenging the firing as a reprisal for speaking out.

It is unacceptable for any worker to be fired for speaking out about violence in their workplace. Violence must not be accepted as “just part of the job” anywhere, including in mental health facilities. Employers have a responsibility to prevent it like any other workplace hazard. Employers should be working with their employees and their unions to find ways to end workplace violence. They should not be spending their time, energy and money scapegoating employees who speak out.

OPSEU members who work in mental health have been raising awareness in our workplaces and with the public about the assaults we experience on the job. We have held information pickets and issued public statements. Recently, we’ve taken three hospitals to the Ontario Labour Relations Board over workplace violence: Brockville Mental Health Centre, Waypoint Mental Health Centre in Penetanguishene, and Providence Care Mental Health Services in Kingston. Last year, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto was charged with four counts of violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act on account of workplace violence.

We have been clear about the main cause of violence in our workplaces: short-staffing and lack of proper security. Patient care is important to us – that’s why we work in mental health. We care about our patients and want to give them the best and most effective treatments possible. But that is hard to do when we are so short-staffed that we can’t de-escalate violent situations or contain aggressive or violent behavior, and we are attacked and assaulted as a result. 

The Mental Health Division will continue to speak out publicly about the dangers our members face at work. No one should be fired for doing that. We will not be silenced about workplace violence.

In solidarity,

Ed Arvelin
On behalf of the Mental Health Division of OPSEU