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.