TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - March 17, 2014) - The glaring extent of developmental services underfunding in Ontario was further exposed this week, as a community living agency openly admitted that, without new funding from the province, it cannot afford to meet legal obligations set out by the Pay Equity Commission.
The agency, which is funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, received an order from the commission's Review Services that requires it to pay both union and non-union employees' adjustments and back pay covering the years 2010 to 2013. Among the workers affected by the decision are those who provide direct support and assistance to people with developmental disabilities.
In an open letter to employees, the agency's director wrote, "An order does not change the fact that we can't make the Pay Equity adjustments within existing funding. [The ministry says] we can't reduce services to make these adjustments. It is also our opinion that we can't reduce staffing complement to make these adjustments - even if we agreed with that option."
A spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents developmental support workers at the agency, was more direct in her criticism:
"The government has created a crisis in Ontario's developmental services, brought about by years of underfunding," said Joanne Smithers, a CUPE representative on the Developmental Service Workers Coordinating Committee.
"The latest letter from this employer is evidence that unions and employers in the sector are saying much the same and both are in pointing to chronic government underfunding.
"This sector has suffered several straight years of reductions to services, understaffing and cutbacks to programs, to the point where there are 23,000 individuals on waitlists for assistance.
"Now we have an employer telling workers and government, 'We can't meet our legal obligation to redress gender discrimination among low-paid, female workers.'
"The majority of workers in our field are women; this is not an isolated problem. How can the government be allowed to balance its budget on the basis of gender discrimination and cuts to services for people with developmental disabilities?"
The pay equity adjustment is only the latest example of a provision that cannot be met within existing funding to the sector.
There are 12,000 individuals on the waitlist for residential supports, said Smithers. Eliminating the wait list will cost up to an estimated $1.2 billion a year. By contrast, last year's developmental services budget increase was a small fraction of that amount.
Smithers concluded: "In the upcoming provincial budget, the government has the opportunity to address the critical situation in developmental services by providing funding that is sufficient to services and supports that meet the real needs of people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
"We are calling on the government to invest funding for real solutions in the budget."
Notes for editors
Wage adjustments are required under pay equity act passed in Ontario in 1987, which closes the wage gaps that result from systemic gender discrimination in salaries.
The agency in question made the required pay equity adjustments until 2009. But in 2010, after the provincial government froze base budgets increases for Community Living agencies, the agency made no further pay equity adjustments. In 2011, CUPE requested that the Pay Equity Commission assist the resolution of outstanding issues of pay equity adjustments.
The salary range for direct support workers at the agency in question ranges from $12.29 to $20.76 per hour.