PSW Strike: Funding restraint for wages a blunt instrument that is harming home care

Today striking Red Cross Care Partners personal support workers are at the door step of three government ministers – Deb Matthews (Health), Yasir Naqvi (Labour) and Charles Sousa (Finance).

In recent days Health Minister Deb Matthews has said she wants to let collective bargaining run its process.

It’s a little like the Tories saying they won’t get involved in the collective bargaining process but would be willing to legislate an additional two-year across-the-board wage freeze.

What is a wage freeze other than direct interference in the bargaining process?

In this case, recognizing the 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down British Columbia’s attempt to restrict bargaining rights, the Wynne government has instead cleverly restricted funding for compensation increases to agencies such as Red Cross Care Partners. That is expected to continue until the government balances its budget – officially projected to be 2018 (but likely to happen much sooner).

But don’t say they are interfering in the bargaining process!

The problem with this approach has been evident from the start – an across the board freeze on funding for wage compensation doesn’t separate the highly compensated CEOs from those earning poverty-level wages. The ability to endure a period of freeze is much different between the two.

Nor does it take into consideration the effect of wage suppression on recruitment and retention. As we have stated recently, Elinor Caplan was concerned about the ability of home care agencies to retain and recruit when she filed her recommendations on the home care competition system in 2005. That’s why Ontario instituted a minimum wage for PSWs in 2006, then promptly forgot about it.

Former banker Don Drummond was hired by the McGuinty government to help navigate Ontario’s way out of deficit following the worldwide economic crash in 2008. The economist recommended against an imposed wage freeze,* instead suggesting it be left up to individual agencies and employers to decide how to spend restrained funding provided by government.

The theory goes that restricting funding would force these agencies to drive out inefficiencies and to reduce costs in their own way. That makes two big assumptions – that these employers have considerable inefficiencies to drive out in the first place and that restraint could be effectively managed over such a long period time.

This is a blunt instrument that doesn’t really separate out agencies that may be already well-managed from those that might be poorly run or a for-profit that skimps on quality to enhance shareholder return.

Ironically it is the poorly run agency that may have the slack to pass on wage increases, not the already lean agency.

Last June SEIU invited Health Minister Deb Matthews to spend a day with a PSW home care worker. Interviewed on camera, Matthews observed the PSW “has a lot of skills she needs to apply – and they are different skills for different people… too often it’s not recognized as being a highly skilled job.” She went on to call PSWs “the backbone of our health system.”

Matthews was also full of praise for PSWs when she announced in 2012 what would become the botched PSW registry. At the time many of us in the labour movement said the registry would confer all the negative aspects of professional regulation without any corresponding benefit to the worker.

This strike is for all PSWs.

It is time the government stop pretending it has nothing to do with the present wage restraint being imposed on PSWs.

It is time they recognized the benefits that would come with a more responsible compensation package, including enhanced continuity of care.

It is time they recognized that treating home care as a low wage sector will only damage its future and turn away new graduates from entering this part of the profession.

They have the tools to end this strike and give these women and their families a much brighter end to the holiday season.

Did Deb Matthews really believe what she said in June? If so, she should be working towards a solution now.

* This is a very inconsistent point for the Tories. When the Drummond report came out the Hudak Tories wanted all of it implemented — every last little bit of it. Yet they have continued their call for an across-the-board legislated wage freeze despite Drummond’s specific recommendation against it. Similarly, Drummond preferred enhancing the ability of the LHINs to run the system, but the Tories prefer choice number two — to have “hub” hospitals contract local health care to private agencies. While Hudak accused McGuinty of cherry picking the report, its clear the Tories would have done the same.

3 responses to “PSW Strike: Funding restraint for wages a blunt instrument that is harming home care

  1. i am a bedridden mother of 5, 46 years old. I cannot tolerate sitting, standing or walking, and I rely on my personal support worker to do the things I can no longer do for myself, such as showering, taking medications, emptying my commode, help with incontinence issues, feed me and assist me in my daily paperwork. Without her (in my husband’s absences) I would spend the entire day without any assistance getting something to eat, without any cleaning of my ‘diaper’ and my commode, forgetting my medications and likely falling frequently as I try to navigate the transfer from bed to electric reclining wheelchair alone. Without her, I would not have a shower nor bedbath. As It is, being cared for “in the community” means to have the barest of life’s necessities provided, and zero assistance for things that would create some quality of life. Most people don’t know that the government only supplies capital equipment grants for those on the very lowest of incomes, my family does not qualify. Regardless of grant or not, do people understand that these PSW;s are trying to care of us without the proper equipment to do so? I need an 4000 dollar hospital bed but there is no money for beds, nor for shower chairs, mechanical lifts. Many of us live in rural areas because we cannot afford the rent and associated costs of urban life. There is little to no help with accessible transportation. Only the most basic drugs are covered, and only if you are sick enough to be seen routinely by a in home health professional. And along with all these challenges, the PSW does her/hist best to keep their client as well looked after as if they were at least in an institution. (Yes, I would prefer to live in an institution where one has access to a life, than at home, despite being cared for at home by loved ones_.
    We are being holed up in our dark, inaccessible homes, without any support other than the most intimate of care, with which these low paid PSW workers must to try help us create some sort of quality of life. The PSWs we have are mostly here today, gone tomorrow, though, as this career choice seems very transitory in nature, with frequent turnover in staff. In fact, With so much money needed upfront for gas, and with there being no change in wages for many years, I completely understand the high turnover. I very often have been put in a position of never having met my PSW when she comes, untrained, in our home. Frequent retraining means that my care is supplanted by the time it takes to show the PSW the individual, customized care that is the case for most people that require in-home care. The PSWs themselves are told not to create any personal type friendships with those they care for; thus we are expected to simply lie unattended for hours, broken only with a quick PSW visit,( when they have staff). Many days there are no staff to cover my shift.

    When the Ontario government decided to move to community care all those years ago, I was a young hospital technologist. We shook our heads at that time, as we could see as our jobs were being outsourced in ways so that staffing was moved away from institutionalization towards community care,. We realized that the cost savings had nothing to do with saving hospitals, and more to do with changing our high expectations of care by society. No money followed the bed closures out to the community; no literal beds were bought and put into the community, because Ontario’s community health care does not fund beds. Nor toilets, nor………the list goes on and on. And there are many ‘non-profit’ heads of these PSW providers who have salaries in the six figures, who keep their ‘take’ on the down low while running health care like a profitable fast food chain, in and out in the lowest of required times. The workers do not assist the PSW by the hour; although doctors prescribe the amount of time and duties needed by the client, the PSW providers all have the same working rules; forget about the time, do what needs to be done in the least amount of time and get out. They double and triple charge on the same hour, the”business” runs in the black and the CEOs and others get awarded monetarily for their non-profit, profitable, business. The people getting rooked are not just those of us needing service, but ALL of us, as our taxpayers’ money end up not in the hands of those providing service, nor in the services they were meant for, but rather, to the pockets of the CEO’s and directors. P3 partnership is the next step in the push for privatization of health services.

    So, if today you live in Ontario and are healthy, congratulations and best wishes to you. Remember, though, that many of us were in the exact same seat, employed and healthy, not so many years ago, and the life that society is choosing for us to live is the same as you will be saddled with in the future should you become ill.. If the idea of being young and left in diapers for hours, if you can’t imagine having to wait for someone, anyone to come and feed you a meal, if you can’t imagine spilling coffee all over yourself and having to live in it for another 22 hours before the PSW worker comes, then you haven’t imagined what being ill, disabled and shut in really means. Until then, listen to those of us who have to live this sparse existence, and pay these workers what they are worth. Train them appropriately and give them the resources that they need to care for those who are unable to afford the tools needed to just live an ‘ordinary’ life.

    Best wishes to all those PSW who do so much work for so little!

    Lori Verton
    Wolfe Island

  2. *The workers do not assist the PSW by the hour;
    “The workers do not assist the client by the hour;

  3. Depression is common among our elders and holidays can increase their feeling of sadness. They may feel a sense of loss during these times. It would be better to consult a doctor before holidays come if your loved ones are going through depression.

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