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Emergency room nurse Aimee Earhart discharges a patient as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to put pressure on Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Jan. 20.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Ontario is offering all nurses incentive pay of up to $5,000 per person to encourage job retention.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday the payments are meant to support the nursing work force as the province recovers from the pandemic.

“A strong nursing work force is going to be critical to supporting the provinces recovery in the months and years ahead. Simply put, an investment in our nurses is an investment in our future,” she said at a news conference in Belleville, Ont.

“As we continue our efforts to build up our nursing work force, this investment will help us to retain the nurses that we already have.”

The government has priced the plan at $763 million. Payments will come from employers in two installments, in a lump sum for full-time nurses and as a prorated payment for part-time and casual nursing staff.

Nurses in hospitals, long-term care, retirement homes, home care, mental health and addictions, emergency services and corrections and others who worked directly with patients during the pandemic will be eligible.

People must be employed as of March 31 to receive the first payment and Sept. 1 to receive the second.

Elliott said the government is working with employers to get the first payments out “within the next few months.”

Nurse retention has been raised as a key issue through Ontario’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic

Unions have raised concerns about burnout and low wages after two years of the pandemic, factors they argue are driving people to leave the professional altogether.

A group of health care unions on Monday called the retention payment a “temporary fix” that they said won’t help retain nurses who want long-term support.

SEIU Healthcare, Unifor, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Ontario Nurses’ Association issued a joint statement that was also critical of the fact that other health-care workers were excluded from the retention bonus.

“We are once again cautioning you against further demoralizing the work force by providing one-time payments to some, but not all, health care workers,” the union presidents said in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford.

“While you’re promising up to five-thousand dollars for nurses, what they really want is the support to do their jobs well and to do them safely.”

The group called again on Premier Doug Ford to repeal Bill 124, which caps annual public sector wage increases at 1 per cent, and asked the government to “move past the band aid pay-as-you-vote gimmicks.”

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