Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) - Ontario

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) - Ontario

April 09, 2014 06:00 ET

Frail home care clients collateral victims of province's exploitation of personal support workers

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - April 9, 2014) - The recent public hints and statements by both the Premier and the health minister that their government may be poised to make changes intended to benefit care quality for clients and improve the working conditions of PSWs, are "welcome and long overdue," says the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario.

There is speculation the Liberals may soon make a home care-PSWs related announcement.

"We are cautiously optimistic that the Liberals will rectify many of the wrongs in their home care policy. For nearly two decades Ontario personal support workers (PSWs) have been used as low-waged labour in an underfunded and mostly private, for-profit home care system where ill, frail Ontarians are not getting enough supports at home. Frail clients should not be collateral victims of the province's exploitation of PSWs," says Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer.

CUPE Ontario sent a letter to the Premier and health minister late February, making recommendations for a meaningful home care policy fix. CUPE Ontario's recommendations for care quality focused changes included:

  • Providing continuity of care for clients and stabilizing the high staff turnover rate of PSWs by going from casual, part-time work to at least 30 hour work week;
  • Enhancing care supports for clients by building a full-time PSW workforce as Manitoba - where home care is delivered publicly and not-for-profit - is currently doing. In the hospital sector there is a goal of 70 per cent full-time staff;
  • Developing a multi-year plan to equalize working conditions for home care PSWs with those in hospitals and long-term care. Today PSWs earn $5-$6/hour less than those in hospitals and nursing homes. Immediately allocate an $3.50/hour of PSW home care, as a first step toward equivalency.

"We believe that home care can and should play a vital role in providing a continuum of care for Ontarian's. But this cannot be achieved unless comparable working conditions for PSWs exist in home care as in hospitals and long-term care," says O'Sullivan, chair of CUPE Ontario's health care workers' committee. "It's regrettable that, up to now the provincial government has used home care as the cheaper alternative to 24-hour hospital and nursing home care. Many agree, health policy based on mostly private, for-profit provision, cutting corners and cutting costs has not made for the best possible patient outcomes."

Currently PSWs are mostly a part-time, casual workforce where many earn the base-minimum hourly wage of $12.50/hour (set by the province in 2006) with few benefits and no guaranteed hours.

"It's precarious work, done mostly by women at low wages and difficult working conditions," O'Sullivan adds. "Home care should not be the default cheaper option. And, it is only the cheaper option, because home care PSWs, are exploited as cheap labour, care hours for clients are too low and there are thousands of Ontarians on wait lists for supports. This needs to change."

Under provincial cost-cutting health reforms since the mid 1990s, including the closure of nearly 19,000 hospital beds and a significant stall to funding new nursing beds, here is an increasing reliance by the province on community-based home care supports. But based on the 2013 budget the province spent considerably less for health care than it allocated, $595 million less government accounts show. That's a 1.2 per cent reduction in health spending in the last year alone.

"People need access to more and consistent care at home and, building a stable, full-time PSW workforce, while not the quick fix, is the right policy choice for the province to make. We encourage improved wages and working conditions. But we are hopeful the Premier and health minister will see the merit of the broader systems changes we are proposing, which will improve care quality. The province under spent the health budget by millions last year. There is money for these changes," says Rennick.

This situation in Ontario has led to a litany of problems for home care clients and home care workers. There are thousands of people on wait lists for home supports and most only get a few hours of care a week. Cuts to health spending are also compounded in the home care sector, where a considerable amount of provincial funding goes into the shareholder dividends of the for-profit private companies that dominate service delivery in Ontario.

Contact Information

  • CUPE Ontario
    Candace Rennick

    CUPE Ontario
    Kelly O'Sullivan
    Chair Health Care Workers' Committee

    CUPE Communications
    Stella Yeadon