The union representing hundreds of personal support workers in northwestern Ontario calls a wage increase announced Tuesday "spectacular" news.

On Tuesday, Health and Long-Term Care minister Deb Matthews announced the minimum wage for PSWs working in home care will go up by $4 an hour in the next two years.  

"The home and community care PSWs have fallen further and further behind other PSWs who work in hospitals and long-term care homes," Matthews told CBC News.

Health Minister Deb Matthews

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says the healthcare system's shift toward homecare relies on personal support workers. File photo. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"It just doesn't make sense for people to choose to work in the home care sector and that's where we really need them. So we're closing that gap." 

Since 2006, the minimum wage for homecare PSWs has been $12.50 an hour. That will rise immediately to $14 an hour, retroactive to the beginning of the month. According to Tuesday's announcement, it will increase again to $16.50 an hour by April 1, 2016.

Setting a 'professional standard'

Bill Joblin, the Thunder Bay and region representative for SEIU Healthcare, confirmed that PSWs working in hospitals and long-term care facilities have made much more than their homecare counterparts [generally more than $20 an hour].

"It makes no sense to me," he said. "There should be a professional standard for PSWs, regardless of where you work." 

Joblin said although increasing the homecare PSW minimum wage to $16.50 doesn't fully close the gap, it's "a great start."

He noted the pay hike will benefit seniors and other people receiving home care in northwestern Ontario.          

"Having people attracted to this field of work by paying them a reasonable wage is certainly going to enhance the care that's ... provided to clients," 

Joblin estimated that SEIU Healthcare represents about 400 personal support workers in the region. 

The wage increase surpassed the union's goal in its "Sweet $16" campaign, lobbying the provincial government to "fix the homecare system by investing directly in Ontario's homecare PSWs" 

Although the first $1.50 increase to $14 an hour is effective immediately, the rest of the wage hike still faces some uncertainty, as it is part of the Ontario budget to be presented on Thursday.

In order for that budget to pass, the minority Liberal government needs support from one of the opposition parties.