Brampton hospital nurses, PSWs other staff subject to high rates of race-based violence at work; new CUPE poll finds

July 18, 2022

BRAMPTON, ON –Pandemic tensions are subjecting staff at Brampton’s hospitals to some of the highest rates of race-based and sexual harassment and assault-related violence province-wide, a new poll shows.

Polling conducted by Oracle Research on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) May 17-24, shows a disturbing pandemic surge in physical & sexual violence against the hospital workforce, who are predominantly female.

The race-based and sexual assault poll numbers for Brampton hospitals (part of a larger poll of more than 800 of CUPE’s Toronto/GTA hospital sector members) are jarring.

49% of the registered practical nurses (RPNs), cleaners, clerical and other staff identify in the Brampton/GTA poll as racialized. 72% of them report they are subject to harassment or abuse because of their race or appearance. That’s slightly higher than the 71% average on CUPE’s provincial poll of more than 2300 hospital staff across Ontario.

41% of all categories of Brampton hospital workers experience sexual harassment and 33% experience sexual assault.

The poll also found that 55% of Brampton/GTA respondents experienced physical violence. 52% have witnessed an increase in violent incidences during the COVID-19 pandemic. 53% report feeling depressed and emotionally exhausted because of the overall conditions at work.

16% report an increase in the use of guns or knives against staff.

There are approximately 4100 staff working at the William Osler Health System. If the poll findings are extrapolated to reflect that total, more than 2,200 hospital staff would be physically assaulted at work during the pandemic. Of that number over 1,400 of these assaults would be racially-motivated.

“The grimmest of all projections is that more than 1,300 William Osler staff would be sexually assaulted in the workplace. The sobering reality is that hospitals are increasingly toxic and dangerous workplaces where women are beaten, sexually assaulted, and racially attacked by the hundreds every single day. There is a level of violence going on that the Premier, health minister and the hospitals can no longer ignore. They must act to stop this,” says Sharon Richer secretary-treasurer of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).

This surge in violence against women, much of it racially motivated comes against a backdrop of severe unprecedented staff shortages and vacancies in Ontario hospitals which have fewest staff and beds to population of any developed economy.

“This means that the public waits for access in overcrowded hospitals, patients are sent home while still acutely ill or turned away without care. Family members are anxious and angry about access and about the quality of care. Skeleton staffing is normal, and staff are working alone in circumstances where they are very vulnerable to assault. Under the heavy workloads, low staffing, and violence risks, many RPNs, PSWs, porters, cleaners, clerical hospital staff are sadly making the choice to leave their hospital jobs,” says Dave Verch a veteran RPN and OCHU-CUPE first vice-president.

Recommendations to curb violence against hospital staff begins with zero tolerance and must include provincial funding at least inflation costs to boost staffing so no one works alone and to increase beds to make a dent in ending hallway care.

In Ontario, CUPE represent 50,000 hospital staff working at 120 sites of 65 hospital corporations.


For more information contact:

Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications


Click to download the Workplace Violence Survey: GTA Report