Two-thirds of Ontario PSWs excluded from wage adjustment

Photograph of former Health Minister Deb Matthews with Finance Minister Charles Sousa announcing the breakthrough increase for PSWs in April.

Former Health Minister Deb Matthews with Finance Minister Charles Sousa announcing the breakthrough increase for PSWs in April. (Photo: Ontario Government).

It was clear from the start that the much applauded increase for Ontario’s Personal Support Workers was not going to apply to all.

Back in April the government noted that “more than 34,000 of Ontario’s PSWs deliver care, assistance and support to seniors and other people with complex care needs in their own homes and communities.”

That was the target group for Ontario’s new funding aimed at bringing stability to a workforce that was turning over every two years or less. Given the emphasis on continuity of care as a measure of quality, this high level of turnover was evidence of colossal failure the Wynne government couldn’t ignore.

These 34,000 represent only about a third of the PSWs in the province. That means for two-thirds, there will be no additional adjustment outside of their existing collective agreement or individual non-union contract.

Only these 34,000 PSWs will receive the $1.50 an hour increase retroactive to April 1st of this year. Those wage adjustments and retroactive pay are expected in September.

The government has committed to increase the hourly rate for this group by a total of $4 an hour by April 1, 2016. By 2016 the new minimum wage for PSWs will be $16.50/hour.

Given the scope of the plan issued in April, it was no surprise that PSWs working in hospitals and long-term care homes would be excluded by the government from this new funding.

What is surprising is news that the government has arbitrarily excluded a significant group of PSWs who do work within the home and community sector. According to a brief released by CUPE, the government is denying the same increase to those who exclusively provide homemaking and work in community mental health/supportive housing. Earlier descriptions suggested these PSWs would likely be in the target group.

In some cases, these excluded workers are often employed by the same agencies that will be passing on increases to their colleagues who provide personal care.

“Personal care” can range from getting patients out of bed, bathing, light wound care and other designated acts under the supervision of a licensed health professional.

Given the emphasis on “helping Ontario seniors stay independent and supporting patients with complex needs,” this latest exclusion appears to be a partial retreat from the Wynne government’s pre-election commitment. That may be why there has been no information coming directly from the Ministry of Health.

Wages for the excluded group of home care workers are far from generous. Home support workers at ParaMed Home Healthcare in Renfrew County, for example, start at $12.88 per hour. That places them squarely in the category of the working poor. There will be no immediate government relief for them as they appear headed for a likely strike in early September.

Back in April the announcement to support the PSWs was generally well received. The Tories predictably grumbled about it, labelling it an election ploy. Buried in their election platform was a promise to cancel the wage hike, but the issue wasn’t a significant talking point during the campaign. Former PC leader Tim Hudak likely knew that making the lowest-wage home support workers the target of restraint wasn’t going to generate many votes.

Rather than divide PSWs who deliver critical support in the community, Ontario’s new health minister should take a broader view.

Elinor Caplan, who served as Minister of Health in both federal and provincial Liberal governments, gave the Ontario government significant warning in 2005 about the impact of instability within the home care workforce. In her review of competitive bidding in home care, she recommended an industry standard that would go much further to include dental, drug plans, pension and mileage.

Dr. Eric Hoskins may find that like Deb Matthews he may have little choice but to act. If home care is to be essential to Ontario’s health reform, he cannot stand by while workers leave the sector due to poor compensation.

The alternative would be longer waits in hospital at a much higher cost.

The government reports that the annual cost of these wage adjustments will be $50 million this year and $130 million by 2016.

OPSEU is lobbying to extend the scope of coverage to apply to all PSWs in home and community care. “This is much-needed funding to an important group of health care workers who remain among the most poorly paid in our communities,” says OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

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What was in the CUPE brief?

Our colleagues at CUPE issued a brief last week highlighting what they were told by the Ministry. Here are four highlights:

  • Wage adjustments have been delayed by the election and will be implemented September 1st retroactive to April 1, 2014. Hourly rates increase by $1.50/hour as of April 1, 2014, April 1, 2015 and by another $1/hour on April 1, 2016.
  • Who’s in: PSWs providing direct personal and respite care who work for agencies funded through the provincial government, the LHINs and the CCACs.
  • Who’s out: PSWs who provide homemaking services or who work in hospitals and long-term care, community mental health/supportive housing, and government-funded self-directed care.
  • PSWs who provide both personal and homemaking support may be eligible for the increase, the government telling CUPE they will take a “wider” approach.

OPSEU has asked the Ministry of Health for further clarification on the implementation of this wage increase.

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