Sometimes the government and its contract health providers just don’t know where to draw the line between fiscal responsibility and simply being cheap.
Nobody respects a cheapskate except for other cheapskates.
Already saving a bundle by whisking patients out of hospital as soon as possible, the province had to rush immediately to “cheap” when it came to paying the thousands of personal support workers (PSW) whose job it is to care for these patients.
When something is cheap, we usually don’t put a lot of value in it. Yet PSWs are incredibly valuable to the Ontario’s government’s overall health strategy. They are also critical to home care recipients and long-term care residents who rely upon them. So why is the government still treating PSWs as if they were of only minimal value when it comes to pay?
Recently Wal-Mart endured considerable wrath from the public when a store in Canton, Ohio actually asked for food donations to support their underpaid employees. Everybody was reminded of the Walton family’s $150 billion personal fortune made from the toil of these workers. And of course, if the donors bought that food from Wal-Mart…
Closer to home the VON pays so little to its part-time PSWs in Grey Bruce Counties that some have also become reliant on charities and food banks to make ends meet for their families.
VON is not paying a living wage in Grey Bruce. This despite VON Canada’s pleas two years ago that the government exempt home care workers from wage restraint. At the time the VON said that while Ontario PSWs make between $14-$20 an hour, those working in the community were on the lower end of that scale. The recommendation from the VON was that home care providers needed to bridge the 20-40 per cent wage differential with PSWs who work in long-term care homes and hospitals.
Actually, there are PSWs who presently earn even less than that $14-$20 scale – the PSWs who work for VON in Grey Bruce Counties.
Most are earning BELOW $14 an hour. The top rate is $14.25 an hour.
We know that the VON is under fiscal restraint, but VON had a budget of $232 million in 2012. We’re talking about 35 workers here.
If we were in interim CEO John Gallinger’s shoes, we might feel a little bit nervous about now.
Does Gallinger, who normally fills the role of Chief Operating Officer, want to greet incoming CEO Jo-Anne Poirier in January with the news that 35 of their front line employees have been on strike over the holidays and trashing VON’s reputation all over the stakeholder community?
With the assistance of a mediator, the 35 VON PSWs in Grey Bruce County are going back to the bargaining table next week. If they get insults instead of the respect they deserve, the VON will have a strike on its hands. That’s a guarantee. These women are motivated and ready to go.
Every indication is that the community will be solidly behind them. We will be too.
Not everybody can be a PSW. In fact the province tried to establish a PSW Registry to grandfather qualifications for existing PSWs and set educational and training standards for newcomers. Durham College, for example, has a one-year PSW program. Tuition for that program is $2,609. That is NOT cheap. Nor is the income students have to forego to take the classes and find time to study.
Back in 2005 Elinor Caplan’s provincial review of home care procurement recognized there was a problem with how workers, and PSWs in particular, were compensated. She recommended, among other initiatives, that the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centers and service providers consider setting basic employment standards for the industry, including dental, drug plans, pension and mileage.
Sounds great. So what did the province do?
In 2006 the province did set a minimum wage for PSWs — $12.50 an hour. Cheapskates.
And then they forgot about PSW compensation again. That’s seven years ago.
Now the province is told they will have to soon double the size of the home support workforce to meet future demand.
Who would want to give up a year and much hard cash to enter a career that pays little more that what social activists are calling for as the general minimum wage? And for that you need to have and maintain a vehicle to travel between clients. This is not what we would call compensation that retains and recruits skilled workers.
Health Minister Deb Matthews may want to grab a big container of pain medication.
While the province is hardly reeling over the prospect of 35 VON PSWs hitting the picket line as early as next week, 4,500 SEIU PSWs working for Red Cross Care Partners have just rejected a tentative agreement that would have frozen their pay at $15 an hour for five years.
That means 4,535 PSWs (and counting) could soon be on strike near you.
If they are walking the picket line, they are not helping hospitals empty their alternate level of care beds. Oh, did I mention this also falls at the cusp of flu season, where demand for these beds is usually high?
That’s the problem with cheapskates. They never seem to learn that in the end it always costs them more. Much more.
Home and community care got the biggest sectoral funding increase in the spring austerity budget. Unlike the freeze on hospitals, this sector did receive a six per cent increase.
Here’s our suggestion: Perhaps the Ministry should begin with the premise that this is the season of giving.
Stay tuned! We’ll be in Owen Sound this Friday for a press conference on this issue.