Personal support workers (PSWs) who work in home care rallied on Thursday in Toronto to demand the Ontario government make temporary pandemic pay permanent and improve working conditions.
The rally comes just weeks before the Ford government plans on ending the temporary pandemic wage enhancement implemented in October2020 and then extended in March 2021 until June 30. The wage increase raised the hourly wage for long-term, home and community care workers by $3.
But home-care PSWs and advocates say a permanent pay increase, and improvements in the working conditions, are necessary to stop the exodus of workers from the home-care sector.
“PSWs are moving over to long-term care because there is such a pay shortage,” says Helen Armstrong, community development and social action worker with The Neighbourhood Group, a major employer of home-care PSWs. “The home-care sector is really being left behind and at risk of collapsing.”
In a press release, the organization stated that PSWs working in home care make an average of $17.30 an hour, compared with long-term care PSWs who make an average of $22.69. PSWs and advocates at the rally demanded an hourly wage of $25, along with paid sick leave and regular full-time hours.
PSWs in long-term care have already spoken out about the poor wages, working conditions and lack of full-time hours and other job protections available for them.
But while recent Ontario government announcements have committed to funding and programming to support the long-term care sector – such as a December 2020 long-term care staffing plan that would invest $1.9 billion annually by 2025 to create more jobs – the home-care sector has been largely left out of these discussions.
Investing in recruiting and retaining long-term care workers without also coupling that with investments in home care will cause a major imbalance in the health-care industry as workers leave the sector for more lucrative pay and hours, advocates say.
In an email statement, Premier Doug Ford spokesperson Alexandra Adamo highlighted the current $3 temporary wage increase, along with the previous temporary pandemic pay increase from the end of April to mid-August 2020 of $4 per hour coupled with a $250 monthly top-up.
“Premier Ford made a commitment to PSWs to improve their working conditions, provide better training and to pay them more for their vital work. We will continue to work with our labour partners to determine the best ways to support PSWs in Ontario in their delivery of critical high-quality care,” she stated.
“We are relieving the long-term care system and that long waiting list,” says Connie Ndlovu, a PSW and president of CUPE Local 7797 at The Neighbourhood Group.
With more employees leaving the sector, she says it has been increasingly difficult to keep up with the job demands, resulting in worsening conditions for some seniors and disabled people.
“I’ve seen [seniors] living in horrible conditions, staying in bed with their soaked diaper for days,” Ndlovu says.
Home-care PSWs have been under pandemic restrictions that require them to only do “essential” work, meaning clients are often left in poor conditions.
“They think essential work is only changing a diaper. Things like cleaning for someone in the house – they think that is not essential, but it is,” she adds.
Ndlovu says the sector will only deteriorate if the province cannot provide decent working conditions for PSWs beyond the pandemic pay.
“We don’t even have benefits, and sometimes we’ll get just five hours a week of work,” she says.
“It’s predominantly women of colour in this sector; you cannot empower women if they’re living in poverty every day,” Ndlovu explains. “We want Premier Ford to value the home-care work that is done by us.”