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Wage increases top home care workers' election concerns

Despite an acknowledgement by the three leading parties that homecare is essential in northwestern Ontario, personal support workers working in clients' homes make much less than their counterparts working in long-term care facilities.

Liberal, PC and NDP candidates in Thunder Bay-Atikokan all say home care is important

Despite an acknowledgement by the three leading parties that homecare is essential, personal support workers working in clients' homes make much less than their counterparts working in long-term care facilities. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Personal support workers in northwestern Ontario are wondering how the provincial election outcome will affect their wages, as a Liberal budget item turns into a campaign issue. 

Before the government fell, many PSWs were applauding a pledge to raise the minimum wage for those working in home care by $4 per hour over the next two years, which would bring their pay to $16.50 per hour.

The move came after months of campaigning by SEIU Healthcare and other unions to bring the wage for homecare PSWs closer to the more than $20 per hour made by their counterparts in long-term care homes.
Personal support worker Jennifer Silvaggio says the wage difference between home care and long-term care homes is "immense." (Supplied)

At one time personal support worker Kakabeka Falls resident Jennifer Silvaggio provided homecare in rural areas surrounding Thunder Bay. But she left her homecare job to work in a long-term care facility.  

"Not because I didn't want to do home care," she told CBC News. "But it was a [higher] wage and it was steadier work."

Finding a 'balance'

Silvaggio said that decision almost doubled her salary, from less than $12 per hour to more than $20, despite the fact she provided similar care and worked just as hard in home care.    

"You run just as much ... doing homecare as you do with long-term care," she said.
Thunder Bay-Atikokan Liberal candidate Bill Mauro. (Supplied)

Many homecare PSWs must work two or three jobs to make ends meet, Silvaggio said, adding that she didn't believe the Liberals' $16.50 per hour pledge goes far enough in terms of compensation.

Thunder Bay-Atikokan incumbent and Liberal candidate Bill Mauro said increasing home care wages is part of the party's plan to shift as much healthcare as possible from institutions, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, into people's homes.

"It's better for the people who need the care," he said. "It's better for all of us as taxpayers and we're trying to find the balance here in terms of those personal support workers staying in the [homecare] sector."

Harold Wilson is the Progressive Conservative party candidate for the Thunder Bay-Atikokan riding. (Supplied)

Long-standing issue

Harold Wilson, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, agreed that homecare is an important healthcare priority for northwestern Ontario, although his party would not implement the proposed raise for homecare PSWs.

"We have to make sure that ... individuals can stay in their homes longer, but they have to be provided for," said Wilson. "The only way we're going to do that is making sure that we've got control of our own finances."
Thunder Bay-Atikokan NDP candidate Mary Kozorys. (Adam Burns/CBC)

The NDP have not yet released their health-care platform.

But the party's Thunder Bay-Atikokan candidate, Mary Kozorys, said the NDP was talking about the issue long before the Liberal party raised it.

"I can't understand the differential in wage between those PSWs who provide care in the home and those who are providing care in long-term care facilities," she said on Wednesday. "The work that they do is exactly the same."

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