While there have been improvements in the regulation and monitoring of Ontario PSWs, the most significant change pertains to recent developments regarding policies governing their salaries.
The Liberal government’s Health Ministry has recently taken the reigns in the issue by announcing a minimum wage increase of $4 per hour for PSWs working within the home care sector.
This article will outline:
- the circumstances that led to the policy being established,
- It’s implementation,
- Role of unions,
- Political issues related to the pay hike, and
- the reactions and criticisms from various stakeholders.
Ultimately, knowledge is power and knowing exactly what the details will help you make an informed decision about embarking on a career as a PSW in the near or distant future.
WHY THIS PAY HIKE
Before discussing the new wage increase itself, it is important to understand some of the factors that led to the government’s decision to develop it.
One of the most significant reasons cited for the pay hike…
was the fact that the work PSWs perform is an extremely crucial element with respect to patient care.
the population throughout Canada is aging rapidly.
If trends continue, Statistics Canada estimates seniors outnumbering children in next 20 years.
The technological advancements in medicine have allowed those with various disabilities and illnesses to live longer.
There is, as a result, a corresponding increase in the number of individuals requiring care, specifically in their homes.
higher number of convalescent and palliative care patients are also causing a rise in the need for personal support workers within the private home care sector as well.
These factors have resulted in a higher demand for professionals who are able to provide hands-on services related to Assisted Daily Living (ADL) tasks.
Deb Matthews, Ontario’s former head of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care stresses on the fact that
“PSWs are critical in assisting seniors and people with complex care needs to lead independent and healthy lives.”
A second reason cited for the pay hike was…
the fact that PSWs were earning significantly less than other healthcare professionals.
Registered Nurses (RNs) earn an average of $50 000 to$ 65 000 per year and Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) receive approximately 42 000 to $ 47 000 in gross annual salary.
those who are classified as
“health care aides” and
“nurse’s aides” earned an average of just $20 000 to $24 000, $24 000 to $30 000 and $26 000 to $30 000 per year respectively.
As you can see, the disparity between the pay of PSWs and other health care workers is quite significant.
A third factor cited as a reason for the creation of the new policy was…
the significant amount of tasks and duties that PSWs were required to perform which were not commensurate to the compensation they received for it.
As a potential future personal support worker, your tasks would include assisting patients in virtually every daily living task they cannot perform themselves.
there is a possibility that you would be responsible for paying either all or a significant amount of the expenses related to commuting to and from your patients’ homes.
Thus you would have had to pay for gas and vehicle maintenance yourself, regardless of the low pay you received.
Hence the commonly held view was that workers were not being fairly and equitably compensated for the significant, varied, financially costly and often physically demanding tasks they performed.
SALARY BY AREA AND PROVINCE
In the years leading up to the wage increase,
the province’s 34 000 PSWs (those working in the community) were receiving an average of little over the minimum wage level of $12.50 per hour.
The rate was established in 2006 by the government in an attempt to stabilise the services provided by Community Care Access Centres (CCAC) and was never changed.
This was despite the fact that there were amendments made to minimum wage levels in general job categories.
As a result, the wages of Ontario’s PSWs remained relatively low.
They did not reflect the work that PSWs performed or their importance within the province’s healthcare sphere in general.
wages earned by PSWs in other parts of Canada were frequently higher than those residing in Ontario during that time.
Conversely, Rural West Saskatchewan and Saskatoon personal support workers received a much higher pay of almost $18.00 per hour.
to put it in perspective and provide a more refined scope to the discussion pertaining to PSW wages, it is important to consider the salaries received by workers in various cities within the province.
As illustrated in the above bar graph, PSWs in Guelph earned an average of approximately $11.50 per hour whereas those in Ottawa received approximately $14 hourly.
In addition, Newmarket PSWs were paid an average of almost $17.00 per hour.
Overall the average national yearly income for PSWs is $31 000.
workers in cities in Ontario such as Thunder Bay received 1% below the above mentioned average and Kitchener and Cambridge PSWs were given 4% less respectively.
It is therefore apparent that PSWs in several cities within Ontario were receiving wages that were lower than the national average and that there was a clear disparity between the pay they received compared to that of workers in other provinces.
SALARY BY EXPERIENCE LEVEL
that will presumably influence your decision to enter the personal support worker field is the pay rate PSWs receive relative to the amount of work experience they have.
Thus based on statistical evidence,
under the previous law you only would have received what is widely considered to be a moderate living wage after being employed in the field for more than a decade.
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO PAY HIKE
One of the most significant incidents that occurred in the months leading up to the government’s decision to increase PSW wages…
low wages, and
minimal travel time reimbursement,
almost 5000 PSWs opted to take to the picket lines to voice their grievances regarding pay and work conditions.
The general consensus amongst workers was the fact that they had effectively received a salary decrease that was tantamount to 7% drop.
This was as a result of their wage freeze despite the increased cost of living.
Many expressed their feeling that the “pay cut” of sorts was unjust and unethical.
The PSWs who were employees of the Red Cross Partners, Ontario’s largest healthcare staffing agency, were being paid only $12.50 per hour at the time.
After being in a legal strike position for several weeks and rejecting a tentative agreement with the Red Cross Care Partners, the Service Employee International Union (SEIU), announced that the PSWs would be walking off the job as of December 11th.
Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU cited the fact that some executives working for the Red Cross Care Partners had recently received a significant pay increase as one of the factors that led to their decision to reject the contract they had been offered.
“We estimate 50 cents of every dollar given is skimmed off the top for bureaucracy, excessive executive pay and profit. Who is accountable in this system for delivery, available care for seniors and vulnerable clients? Last year, the CEO of the Red Cross Society was given a 9% pay increase bringing his salary to $297 000 which is 11 times the average salary of a PSW.”
The union admitted that workers were choosing to strike reluctantly as they were aware of the fact that the most vulnerable members of their communities would be adversely affected by the lack of health care personnel available.
However the group argued that it was necessary in light of the circumstances.
After two weeks on strike wherein an estimated 48 000 seniors were negatively impacted by the fact that there were less PSWs available in communities to provide care for them, the contract dispute between SEIU and the Red Cross Care Partners went into interest arbitration.
As a result, the strike ended and the 5000 PSWs on the picket lines returned to work.
POLITICS AND THE 2011 ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN
The PSW salary issue was a linchpin during the 2011 Ontario general election as well.
The Ontario Community Support Association(OCSA) had sent a questionnaire to four of the campaigning parties pertaining to healthcare reform initiatives including the wages of PSWs.
under the helm of Dalton McGuinty responded by stressing the importance, practicality and economic, physical and social benefits of “moving away” from reactive care delivered in institutions to that of preventative care provided in the community.
The former Premier addressed the agency’s questions regarding the difficulty OCSA member organisations frequently faced with respect to hiring and retaining PSWs as a result of limited budgets, low salaries and minimal travel expense reimbursement.
McGuinty appeared cognizant of the problems they outlined and asserted that his party recognised the importance of providing “high quality” and cost effective care in demand for services.
He went on to cite that in response to the Caplan report published in May of 2005 entitled
his government had allocated 27 million dollars for the healthcare system in an effort to “stabilize” the PSW workforce.
The former Premier also referenced his commitment to implementing a fairer and more equitable minimum wage and improve compensation for travel expenses.
Thus he stated that his administration’s objective was to effectively increase the stability and reliance that is placed on part time and full time personal support workers in accordance with the government’s desire to develop a more comprehensive, community-based health care system.
Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives also responded to OCSA’s questionnaire but weren’t as specific regarding their plan of action to address the issue.
Hudak did reveal his party’s intention to alleviate the strain on Ontario’s “struggling” healthcare system.
He stipulated that if elected, they would implement measures that would help to place an increased focus on healthcare by growing investments within the sector by 6 billion dollars per annum.
Andrea Horwath, replied to the questions stating that PSWs were an “essential” part of Ontario’s health care system as well.
Horwath further asserted that the inadequacies within the system were borne by the personal support workers who were subjected to unpaid travel times, unsustainable workloads and improper protection.
The party head stated that it would subsequently bring attention to the issue with stakeholders and thus work with them towards creating the protection and supports that PSWs needed.
Knowing the extent to which PSWs themselves played in pressuring the government to increase wages will also help you gain a deeper understanding of the circumstances that existed at the time.
Newspapers were rife with human interest stories.
Stories relating personal accounts of workers who would reveal their dissatisfaction with the low pay they received and poor work conditions that they were forced to work under.
Ontario PSWs such as Orillia’s Tammy Ladouceur and Selena Tremblett were just two of the thousands of workers whose stories were covered in local papers.
They felt their wages were inordinately low relative to the work that they performed.
Ladouceur stated that despite finding her chosen career to be fulfilling and enjoying the work, she would not be able to remain in it as a single person due to:
- the low pay she received and
- inadequate reimbursement for travel and vehicle maintenance.
She also cited:
- the absence of sick days,
- a pension, and
- basic benefits
as another reason why she considered leaving the profession at the time.
Tremblett admits that she felt like a “glorified maid” in the position that she held with the Red Cross Care Partners and had thus become disillusioned with respect to her position and the career itself.
Many like Kerry O’Brien, another Ontario PSW, pointed to the fact that several of her co-workers needed to have a second job just to make ends meet and that those who didn’t were essentially living under the poverty line.
O’Brien also argued that in many instances, it was necessary to have a second job simply help to pay for gas and car maintenance.
Hence there were clearly several stakeholders that caused the government to be under fire for the low minimum wage levels and poor work conditions that PSWs were subjected to.
promises made by parties including the Liberals during the 2011 election, and
PSWs’ personal stories in the media all helped to bring the current government’s attention to the situation which finally resulted in the pay hike that took place during the first quarter of 2014.
In April of 2014, it was announced that the Liberal government would boost the minimum wage of personal support workers in the home care sector by $4 per hour which would occur incrementally.
Reports indicated that PSWs would thus receive an additional $1.50 per hour more retroactively to April 1st, 2014.
Another increase was scheduled to take place in April of 2015 and a following one in April of 2016.
Hence the minimum wage level would rise by 32% to $16.50 per hour from $12.50 hourly.
The government’s PSW Workforce Stabilization Strategy had several objectives.
According to the Minister of Finance, once implemented, the policy would serve to develop and sustain more permanent jobs for PSWs in addition to the pay raise.
The goal was to help facilitate the strengthening of sector leadership throughout the profession and assist recent graduates in finding work through various on-the-job training programs.
The Liberals’ new strategy was also geared towards identifying the challenges and barriers that have influenced the recruitment and retention of PSWs.
It was also sought to ascertain how workers could become more “engaged” in healthcare professional teams with the goal of improving the care provided.
Overall, the plan was not only developed to address the low wages of PSWs but was also intended to create more jobs for the future in keeping with the province’s Action Plan for Health Care.
Charles Sousa, Ontario’s Minister of Finance followed the announcement by stating:
“Our government is committed to making the investments necessary to make Ontario one of the best places in the world to live and work. Personal support workers play a critical role in our society and we need to ensure that they are treated fairly for the important work that they do so that we can retain our best caregivers.”
The plan itself is expected to cost the government 50 million in 2014-2015, and rise to 130 million in the year 2016-2017 with it being fully implemented in the year 2018.
According to the Ministry, the funds for the new law will be garnered as a result of savings that will be incurred though chronically ill and elderly patients being moved from $1000 per day hospital beds back into their own homes.
REACTION TO GOVERNMENTS DECISION
Opposition parties decried the plan with the PCs asserting that the pay increase was a “pre-election ploy”.
The NDP argued that the government had taken too long to address the issue yet had made a total of 39 public announcements prior to actually developing the plan in a clear attempt to win seats in a future election.
The response of the wage increase by the union that had been the most vocal of the Ministry’s detractors was generally favourable.
The SEUI lauded the pay hike calling it an “achievement” and roundly considered it be to be a victory for the thousands of PSWs that it represented.
The union asserted that their “Sweet 16” campaign, (geared towards increasing the minimum wage to $16) strike and rally on Queen’s Park had placed a significant amount of pressure on the government which was key in the Liberals’ decision.
Union officials also stated that the general improvement of work conditions would inevitably decrease the staggering 60% turnover rate plaguing the field.
despite the fact that SEIU was satisfied with the decision, Stewart has stated that the union would continue its efforts in hopes of getting the government to create policies that would make wage levels for PSWs equal to that of those who are employed in facilities.
CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, (CUPE) Canada’s largest union with almost 700 000 members representing workers in various fields including health care, argued that the pay hike was “modest” and “long overdue“.
CUPE officials also highlighted problems regarding the “rollout” of the plan as well.
While they conceded that the provincial government made the “right decision“, they felt as though the Liberals needed to address the issues that had arisen regarding its implementation.
They have argued that some employers are flat out refusing to respect the wage increase and believe that mandatory sick leave and vacation pay stipulations should have been included in the policy.
Also, they have criticized the government for not increasing wages for home care workers to the salary level of PSWs working in long term and chronic care hospitals as well as other facilities.
CUPE also stated that despite the $4 pay increase, personal support workers would continue to be exploited and that the government’s plan and execution of the strategy was flawed and therefore required adjustment.
Reaction of PSWs
The reaction of PSWs throughout the province was generally positive.
Newspapers in Ontario including the Windsor Star have reported that overall, personal support workers were satisfied with the wage increase referring to it as a “good start“.
Millie Hickson, a Windsor-area PSW of 29 years told the paper that it was a “relief” for her and the hundreds of workers in the city .
Hickson revealed that many of her colleagues were single mothers who had been in tears upon hearing the announcement, thrilled at the prospect of being able to earn a living wage in order to support their families.
Web forums and comments sections of articles pertaining to the news also reflected the fact that PSWs were generally pleased with the government’s decision.
Several supported the measures stating that PSWs had been grossly underpaid and that the pay hike would improve everything from their respective personal financial situations to alleviating the shortage of workers that has plagued the field for the past decade.
PSWs in Ontario have the gargantuan task of providing much-needed care for many of the most vulnerable members of the community.
The care they provide is and has always been crucial within the healthcare arena yet up until recently, they had not been fairly compensated for the work that they performed.
The Ontario government’s plan was a long time coming and occurred amidst mounting pressure from various stakeholders involved in what ultimately became a hot-button issue.
The wage increase, while imperfect, has been an important step in strengthening the healthcare system and one that will presumably help to improve the lives of PSWs and patients alike.
It will also serve to solidify the government’s plan to create a more community-based, proactive system that focuses on ensuring that the needs of Ontario residents, regardless of whether they provide or receive healthcare services, are met.
This article endeavored to provide you with important information regarding the PSW minimum wage increase that occurred in recent months.
Being aware of all of the issues surrounding the situation both prior to and following the pay hike will therefore help you make an informed decision with respect to entering the field.
Doing so will therefore increase the likelihood that you will be well-equipped to make a choice that you will be satisfied with, thus enabling you to potentially work in a position that you will find both fulfilling and satisfying.
Image credit: Council of Canadians on Flickr