Tag Archives: Personal Support Workers

Home Care: Giving and taking away

Photograph of ParaMed staff picketing outside of their Pembroke offices in July. 140 Renfrew County home care workers could be on strike as soon as September 2.

ParaMed staff picket outside their Pembroke office in July. 140 Renfrew County home care workers could be on strike as soon as September 2.

The government gives, the home care agencies take away.

Many of OPSEU’s home care agencies are presently at the bargaining table.

You’d think this would be the best of times for the professional and support staff that conducts the often difficult work of caring for Ontario’s homebound frail and elderly. Retaining this group of workers is also important to government bean counters who can add up the cost of lengthy stays in hospital by alternative level of care patients waiting for home care access.

Clearly of all sectors, home care has also become central to the government’s strategy to migrate services into the community.

So why can’t they get it right?

Ontario did recognize there is a significant problem with recruitment and retention in home care, taking what appeared to be a bold step towards increasing specific funding for the sector’s personal support workers (PSWs). PSWs delivered 72.3 per cent of all home care visits in 2012/13 and that percentage is growing as visits by licensed health professionals (nurses, dietitians, social workers and therapists) have been in decline over the past decade.

As we noted yesterday, the turnover is so high among home care PSWs that often the entire staff of an agency can change in less than two years.

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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.

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Matthews promises to improve PSW compensation — but it will take time

There may soon be good news for the province’s personal support workers.

“When PSWs tell me they can make more at Tim Horton’s, I sit up and take notice,” Health Minister Deb Matthews was reported to have said yesterday at the Empire Club of Canada.

According to the Toronto Star, Matthews promises to improve the wages of the province’s personal support workers but said it would take time to figure out the best way to do it.

Throughout December’s SEIU PSW strike at Red Cross Care Partners we pointed out that the minimum wage for PSWs has not been increased since 2006, frozen at $12.50 per hour. That’s below the poverty level for workers the province is counting on to make its health transformation work.

That minimum wage is far less than what former Health Minister Elinor Caplan had recommended in her 2005 review of competitive bidding in home care. Caplan recognized that there would be no continuity of care when PSWs were turning over due to poor wages and working conditions. The Star reports today that this turnover rate is 60 per cent annually – clearly the government should have listened. It’s not too late to listen now.

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PSW Strike: A real-life Dickens tale here in Ontario

It’s day three of the Red Cross Care Partners (RCCP) strike and the weather is freezing.

4,500 personal support workers across the province went on strike Wednesday after the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and RCCP failed to reach an agreement.

While the strike does not involve members of our union, it is a David and Goliath struggle that we should all be concerned about. These are the lowest paid workers in the health system. They have tough jobs that can be physically and emotionally demanding as well as require a high degree of skill. SEIU tells us the average age of these workers is 53. They are predominantly women.

This is the government’s home care policy made transparent – the lowest possible wages paid to a group the government feels has little power or leverage.

Three days in and reports are emerging of agencies scrambling to offer financial incentives to PSWs at other agencies in order to fill in the gap. The money that didn’t exist at the bargaining table seems to now be flowing to keep these poverty-wage women out in the freezing cold.

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Underpaid PSWs locked out after refusing wage concessions

The March of Dimes is a registered charity that helps Ontarians with disabilities live independently. Recently the charity locked out about 30 Oakville Personal Support Workers (PSWs) after they refused to give in to wage concessions. These  OPSEU-represented PSWs are currently paid as little as $14 an hour — or what some advocates are saying should be the minimum wage. This is for work that is both skilled and challenging. Meanwhile, the CEO of the March of Dimes rewards herself with compensation that is about $270,000 annually.  The majority of the March of Dimes funding for disability support comes from the Province of Ontario. Our colleagues at Operation Maple recently made this video to tell their story and suggest that perhaps any further charitable donations should come with a condition.

PSW Registry – Many issues unresolved despite impending deadline

As the deadline approaches for home care personal support workers to register with the government’s new PSW Registry, key issues remain up in the air and are unlikely to be resolved soon. PSWs may very well ask what they are registering for?

Home care employers like the VON are telling their PSWs that they must be registered by the end of the month, but the government anticipates that only 70 per cent of the estimated 26,000 publicly funded home care PSWs will meet that deadline.

What happens to the 8,000 unregistered PSWs is anybody’s guess. The PSW Registry Steering Committee does acknowledge it hasn’t worked through the implications of mandatory registration or how it will be enforced. No kidding.

CUPE announced last week that they are departing from the steering committee, calling the Registry “a dollar-store form of regulation, which benefits the province at the expense of the rights and dignity of personal support workers.”

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PSW registry up and running despite unresolved key issues

Health Minister Deb Matthews rose in the legislature to announce June 13 the new PSW Registry is up and running. Initially PSWs (Personal Support Workers)  in the home care sector are being asked to sign up, followed by those working Ontario’s long term care homes.

This is the same registry the Health Professionals Regulatory Advisory Committee (HPRAC) recommended against in 2006 after extensive consultations with PSWs, employers, clients and other stakeholders.

HPRAC instead recommended additional steps to be taken to “improve PSWs education and training, staffing and supervision, and to provide better access to satisfactory recourse for patients and clients as a means of addressing instances of abuse and misconduct.”

HPRAC felt the cost of establishing such a registry would be prohibitive compared to the benefits it could generate.

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