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Can Quebec lure more nurses back into the public system after going private?

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Quebec is trying to bring nurses who went into private health care back into the public system.

The province reached an agreement with the CSN union to allow nurses to maintain some seniority but many say that does little to deal with why they left in the first place.

After nearly 20 years of working as a nurse for the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), Naveed Hussain is going into the private sector.

"I'm being valued, I'm getting paid appropriately, I'm being respected and I'm having fun. I think a lot of people are in that position," he said in an interview Wednesday.

In 2022, Quebec spent more than $1.5 billion dollars on private health-care agency workers to fill gaps in the public system. Natalie Stake-Doucet used to be a nurse and says the bigger reason people leave is working conditions, including forced overtime.

"It's kind of a soul-crushing issue for nursing when you're forced to do overtime, you never know when you're going to get home," said Stake-Doucet, a Université de Montréal nursing professor. "There's very little regard for you as a human."

In a new agreement with the CSN union, if nurses that left for the private sector want to go back to the public side, they can start their new job with up to five years of seniority.

"I'm optimistic but I want to be a realist also. it's really in line with what we would like to have," said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé.

But the opposition's outlook isn't as rosy.

"Let's keep in mind all those workers, they chose to abandon their seniority, they chose to abandon those years because the health-care network was no longer a place where they wanted to work," said the Quebec Liberal Party's health critic, André Fortin.

"We want to keep the nurses in the public system or attract them back, we have to obviously better the work conditions," added Joël Arseneau, the Parti Québécois health critic.

Last year the government unanimously adopted Bill 10, which puts an end to the systematic use of private agencies by 2026. Now Quebec is hoping to attract 11,000 workers to the public side, including 3,000 nurses.

But it still hasn't reached a deal with the FIQ union, which represents thousands of other nurses. Its not responding to this latest move, but says seniority is one of the issues being discussed.

"Without addressing the root problem of this exodus crisis we are having with nurse retention, I fail to see how it's going to have a big impact," said Stake-Doucet.

"I know nurses who have left 20 years of seniority to go work elsewhere, that little five years isn't going to do much for them."

Hussain said, "if we can go to a place in the private sector where we're being prioritized, where we're being valued, we're taking that."

The two nurses say that without addressing that, nurses likely won't go back.

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