Ontario’s nurses are getting the ear of Premier Doug Ford as the province approaches the two year mark of a pandemic that has left them frustrated, exhausted and burned out.

Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have agreed to meet with the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and its president Cathryn Hoy on Feb. 3, after a letter turning down a meeting was sent “in error,” the premier’s office said Tuesday.

Hoy said she wants changes to legislation that caps wage increases for nurses, and other public sector workers, at one per cent and emergency powers that allow employers to alter nurses’ work schedules with “very little notice” often leaving them with child-care problems or canceled vacations.

The concerns have been publicly telegraphed by nurses but a meeting means they can be explained one-on-one to the prime minister with just over four months to go until the June 2 Ontario election.

“Our members are burned out and they’re at the breaking point,” said Hoy, who noted movement on Bill 124 wage caps would send an important signal to nurses that their sacrifices and hard work during COVID-19 have been recognized.

“If he dropped Bill 124 and wanted to negotiate I’d have a team together within 72 hours and ready to bargain,” Hoy told the Star. “Bill 124 is a lot about respect.”

Easing nursing shortages and workloads is also expected to be part of any discussions. ONA, the country’s largest nurses’ union with 68,000 members, wants to see the number of full-time hospital nurses boosted to 70 per cent, up from 50 per cent now.

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When the ONA tweeted Monday that the premier’s office had declined a meeting citing his “extremely demanding schedule,” there was a flurry of criticism on social media.

“Obviously we want to hear from the ONA and we hope it will be a constructive conversation,” said Ford spokeswoman Ivana Yelich, acknowledging “the ongoing staffing shortages and what nurses are dealing with on the front lines.”

Hoy said she does not understand why it took so long to get a meeting, particularly when Ford had time to help stuck motorists a week ago Monday in a snowstorm, as captured on live TV.

“If you can be driving and talking on your cellphone and shoveling snow, I would think that health care… would have been made a priority.”

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