For ParaMed Tuesday’s impending Renfrew strike is just business

Photograph of demonstration outside of ParaMed's Ottawa offices. Support came from across the region as ParaMed's Renfrew workers travelled to Ottawa to picket the company's offices. The workers will almost certainly be on strike next Tuesday.

Support came from across the region Wednesday as ParaMed’s Renfrew workers travelled to Ottawa to picket the company’s offices on Hunt Club Road. The workers will almost certainly be on strike next Tuesday.

Wednesday Renfrew County workers for ParaMed Home Health Care held a surprise picket outside the company’s Ottawa offices supported by a number of regional labour activists.

ParaMed has expressed remarkable indifference to an imminent strike that will sideline 110 nursing and home support workers in the region. Most of these workers are low-wage women.

The company has sent many mixed messages to these workers.

They say they want a deal, but refuse to offer any more bargaining dates until three days into a strike. That makes any last minute agreement to avert disruption to service impossible.

They say that in the event of a strike referrals will go to other home care agencies, but then irresponsibly tell workers that they can cross the picket line if they should choose to continue working.

They have also suggested they may shut down permanently.

New referrals are continuing to be accepted from the Champlain Community Care Access Centre, raising the question of whether the CCAC is even aware of the impending deadline or whether ParaMed is telling them something different? ParaMed had told workers earlier that they had asked the CCAC to stop new referrals.

For years government has insisted the contracting model for home care works, but bargaining involves negotiating with a number of players who simply aren’t across the table, including the CCAC, the Local Health Integration Network and the Ministry of Health.

Private for-profit agencies like ParaMed are always quick to talk about quality when it comes to landing contracts, but it’s a very different story when negotiating with staff who deliver the service on their behalf.

Rather than show us innovation, it’s often just a variant of that old business axiom, buy low (wages) sell high (CCAC payments).

There is simply no pixie dust that makes for-profit care delivery better.

The impending strike is particularly bitter given the province’s efforts to improve the working lives of personal support workers. While some of ParaMed’s PSWs willl receive the mandated $1.50 an hour increase, other professional and support staff are being asked to extend their wage freeze to five years.

That includes home support workers who have a starting wage of $12.88 an hour and are expected to provide their own vehicle to shuttle between visits.

ParaMed PSWs eligible for the government mandated increase are discovering their for-profit employer wants to claw back other benefits they count on. The government gives, ParaMed takes away.

We reported earlier in the week that Home Care Ontario had itself advocated for better wages and benefits to retain workers in the sector. HCO is made up of private agency employers like ParaMed.

The 140 workers are heartbroken about having to walk a picket line next Tuesday. You can’t do this kind of work without getting attached to your clients.

Tuesday it will be up to the Champlain CCAC to find another 110 trained workers to fill in for the strikers. Continuity of care, one of the key quality indicators, will be non-existent.

Given the issues these same employers expressed around recruitment and retention difficulties, we don’t know where these replacement workers will come from. Nor have we heard of any contingency plans.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s new health minister, is not likely to directly intervene in a labour dispute, but he may want to think about where care will be provided from next week and at what cost.

During yesterday’s Ottawa demonstration a small group went into the building to speak about that indifference with the company’s human resources representative.  They claim that a contingency plan will be put in place on the day of the strike although no details were given.

For the executives behind ParaMed, this appears to be just business.

Meanwhile, if you are in Renfrew County, drop by our strike headquarters and say hello.

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