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Facing a dire labour shortage, the West Island health authority is taking the unprecedented step of accepting job applications from teenagers as young as 16 to work in food service, laundry and housekeeping in its hospitals and clinics, the Montreal Gazette has learned.
The CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, which oversees Lakeshore General Hospital, is also willing to hire teenagers over the age of 17 to work as orderlies, provided that they have successfully completed one year of nursing school.
However, a Montreal labour lawyer — while acknowledging that such hiring practices do not flout the law — questioned the wisdom of recruiting people as young as 16 to work in a health-care setting.
“I think they were very careful to respect the law in their memo,” Max Silverman said in an interview Friday.
But he warned that “we’re still in COVID times.”
“Disinfection of hospital rooms I imagine should be a top priority and laundry is a part of that as well. With all of those roles, there are certainly questions raised as to how effectively a 16-year-old would be able to do the job.
“Certainly, if they hadn’t been starving the health-care system for the past 20 years — making it so that nobody wants to work there — they practically wouldn’t have this problem,” Silverman added of the provincial government’s management of the system.
Hélène Bergeron-Gamache, a spokesperson for the West Island CIUSSS, defended the new hiring policy as progressive.
“The CIUSSS has set up a recruitment program for people aged 16 and over,” she said in an emailed statement. “This is an opportunity to make the health network known to the next generation of health-care professionals. Work on this new recruitment program began in the fall.
“The positions that will be filled by these young people do not require any professional training and have no medical responsibility towards patients. They include administrative work, kitchen work and housekeeping, etc.”
However, a senior manager at another Montreal health authority, who declined to have their name published because of the sensitivity of the issue, called the new hiring policy at the West Island CIUSSS “ridiculous.” The manager said their health authority would not consider hiring 16-year-olds.
Quebec is currently beset with labour shortages in every region of the province. In January, Quebec posted an unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent, the lowest of all provinces. The rate was also far lower than the long-term average of 9.39 per cent.
The health-care sector has struggled in general with acute shortages in all types of workers, and the Lakeshore in particular has found it difficult to attract and retain staff. On Monday, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced he will launch an independent investigation into a rising number of emergency room deaths at the Pointe-Claire hospital.
The West Island CIUSSS also oversees St. Mary’s Hospital in Côte-des-Neiges and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Verdun in addition to many public long-term care centres.
The Montreal Gazette has obtained a copy of the memo, dated March 1, that spells out the revised hiring policy. That policy states: “From this point on, (the) CIUSSS will accept applications from minors who are no longer subject to compulsory school attendance. However, it will limit the job titles and sectors that will be accessible to them.”
Silverman, who has reviewed the policy, suggested that the CIUSSS might unwittingly encourage some 16-year-olds to drop out of high school.
“Somebody who’s, let’s say, teetering on the edge of dropping out of school who has already completed a school year when they were 16 — so they’re now late 16 or early 17 — and completing their final year of school, they can work even if they’re in school under this memo, and I think there’s a question about whether that’s encouraging dropping out, even if they’re saying that they’re not.”
The memo also stipulates that “minors will not be able to work in sites dedicated to users who have benefited from the youth protection program (e.g. group home) or dedicated to the clientele of the mental health and dependency programs directorate” at the Douglas.
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