TORONTO: A wage increase for some Ontario health care and social service staff is belated recognition by the provincial government of the immense contribution and sacrifice of this mostly female workforce is making in the fight against COVID-19, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said.
“It is also, in our view, a tacit admission that this government has finally come to terms with the consequences of their choices, which have led to a staffing crisis in the very services that they are now relying on to get us through this pandemic emergency,” says CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn.
Tens of thousands of CUPE members are in female-dominated ‘caring sectors’ such as health care and community-based social services. The important work they do “has for many years been devalued, very like the vulnerable populations these workers support; the frail in long-term care; the sick at home and the homeless. What this wage measure seeks to fix will not end in the few weeks this wage increase is in place,” added Hahn, emphasizing the need for long-term changes to make health care and social service work more stable, full-time and better paid.
While the wage increase is welcome, it also falls short, leaving many key front-line workers out. Paramedics are among those who currently will not benefit from this wage increase despite being front-line health care workers. There are also concerns that some childcare workers, who are supporting emergency workers’ families, are also left out.
In long-term care the provincial government has come to the chilling realization that low-paid personal support workers (PSWs) who are forced to work at multiple homes to cobble together a decent living is “a disaster of a workforce strategy,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario Secretary-Treasurer. “This announcement must be made permanent and be accompanied by a comprehensive strategy for systemic changes to deal with the crisis in long-term care. Changes that include enhanced staffing levels to improve care quality, an increase in full-time work and safer workplaces.”
CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions president, Michael Hurley said, “These staff work in professions that are physically and emotionally exhausting, dangerous and deeply undervalued. For most of these workers this is the first real financial recognition of their contribution in their working lifetimes. This gesture from the government is appreciated and it should not be a temporary measure.
Further Hurley said that CUPE appreciates that the wage increase is a “thank you and not a premium for risk. With almost 2,000 Ontario health care workers ill with Covid-19, staff are working without adequate personal protective equipment, under a safety protocol which minimizes the need for those precautions. Real recognition for the workforce will also include taking all possible measures to protect their physical safety. We implore the government to upgrade its Covid-19 safety standards for this workforce.”