Amplifying Your Voice: Five questions to help solve workplace issues

Publish date: Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Significant increases to workload, excessive overtime, and other issues are affecting nurses across the province. Many of these issues have been aggravated by government cuts and changes to health care, which have made it harder for nurses to provide the level of care our patients deserve.

Nurses have several options to address workplace issues. Sometimes issues can be resolved simply by approaching management and discussing the issue. Nurses also have access to the grievance and arbitration process for violations of their collective agreement. For complaints that don’t qualify as a grievance, other avenues are available including the Union-Management Committee, the Workplace Health and Safety Committee, or the Nursing Advisory Committee.

If you’re unsure which venue is most appropriate for your issue, consult with your local/worksite president.

When problems persist after the options above have been exhausted, nurses can consider raising the issue in other ways. And when government or management decisions impact patient care and our ability to deliver it, nurses may feel a responsibility to speak out publicly in a responsible manner. In fact, the Canadian Nursing Association Code of Ethics says nurses have a responsibility to address “broad aspects of social justice that are associated with health and well-being” (Canadian Nursing Association, Code of Ethics, 2017, p. 18). This includes “advocating for a full continuum of accessible health-care services” that meet the needs of the public.

Advocating publicly can be a powerful tool, however the manner in which concerns are brought to the public’s attention is important to consider, as it can intersect with employer confidentiality rules and restrictions. Nurses should first use all internal mechanisms to push employers, health authorities and government to take meaningful action. In fact, demonstrating that meaningful effort has been made to resolve an issue internally is critical for establishing credibility with the public and limiting potential repercussions from the employer.

Documentation is also critical to supporting your case. For example, if it is a workload issue, you should be filing Workload Staffing Reports, which are shared with employer and MNU representatives, and brought to the attention of Nursing Advisory Committees. 

Remember, MNU is here to assist you, and has staff with expertise in labour relations, communications and government relations. By pursuing appropriate internal options first, you may be able to resolve your issue and avoid a public confrontation. When those options have been exhausted, MNU can help you determine how and when your concerns could be raised to a public audience.

Every issue is different, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do. Here are MNU’s five questions to consider when taking action on a workplace issue:

QUESTION ONE: Have you consulted with your colleagues? 

Depending on the issue, your colleagues may either be dealing with the same problem or one that’s related. That’s why it’s important to check in, where appropriate. If other nurses are being affected, you can determine if an individual or group response is warranted. Having a sense of the frequency and scope of the issue is important for understanding its impact and if meaningful steps have yet to be taken by your colleagues to address it.

QUESTION TWO: Have you reported the issue to your employer?

First and foremost, the employer is responsible for hearing your concerns and taking meaningful action to resolving it. The employer must be made aware of the issue before it can be determined if further action is warranted. If further action is required, it can be proven that a clear attempt was made to raise the matter with those responsible for the oversight of health care delivery.

QUESTION THREE: Have you reported the issue to MNU?

If the issue persists, your union can help. Depending on where you work, you should contact your area/ward representative, or your local/worksite President to discuss the matter and see what can be done. By advising your union representatives at the beginning of your advocacy efforts, they will be in a better position to advise you and other nurses about further steps that may be required to resolve the issue with the employer.

QUESTION FOUR: Do you have a plan?

Depending on the complexity and scope, an issue can take a long time to resolve. There are usually a number of steps that ought to be followed, even though delays or inaction can lead to frustration for everyone affected. That’s why it’s important to have a plan, so that you and any others affected know what’s being done, and what the next steps are. MNU staff can help you determine the best course of action, and work through different scenarios. Staff can also help determine when and how
an issue could be raised publicly. It’s also important to consider how your workplace issue connects to the health care system, and the scale of its impact. As a nurse, you can use your voice to effect change within your workplace, and the health care
system at large. Health care is complex, which is why documentation and reporting are critical for ensuring MNU has the necessary information to monitor the issue on your behalf, and can advocate for you as required.

Nurses have had success by working with MNU by documenting issues such as overtime, staffing vacancies, and workload issues, or by writing letters that are shared publicly. Ideally, nurses and management can come together to resolve an issue before it needs to go public. However, even in cases where other options are exhausted and an issue is made public, it’s important to have measured expectations. Remember that publicity does not necessarily mean an issue will be resolved.
Even in cases where some action is taken in response, it’s important to monitor it and keep in touch with your colleagues about it in case the issue returns.

QUESTION FIVE: Are you following up?

As mentioned above, there are often unfortunate delays when we seek to resolve issues. Sometimes, management or government officials need reminders to help move an issue forward. Polite follow-ups can be critical to advancing your concern, and also to reiterate its importance. Context is everything for understanding how your voice might impact an issue. Moreover, the issue may be impacting workplaces beyond your own; if so, you could be raising a systemic issue that could take significant
time to address. For example, issues such as workload and overtime are widespread, and MNU is reporting these issues to employers, the government, and the public on a regular basis.

Lastly, it’s important to get involved in union advocacy campaigns that help bring awareness to issues impacting nurses, such as workload and overtime. For example, signing our Put Patients First petition, which calls on the Pallister government to stop its program of health cuts and changes, and to address nurses’ concerns, is a quick and easy way to add your voice to collective action. You can share it with your colleagues via putpatientsfirst.ca, or visit manitobanurses.ca/get-involved
for more other ways to share your concerns and patient care through union channels. 

As the most trusted spokespeople in health care, nurses can use their voice to effect real change for the benefit of all Manitobans. MNU has proven that by working with members, we can generate significant public interest in health care issues, and force the government, health authorities, and employers to act. 

If you have questions or concerns, please contact your MNU representatives for more information.

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