New Brunswick

Care workers say increased wage top-up needed to combat shortage of support staff

Professionals in the long-term care field say the New Brunswick government's plan to pay the tuition for those training to be support staff is good, but needs to be accompanied by a plan to increase the provincial wage subsidy those staff receive.

Personal support workers in special care homes earn $14.50 on average, says association president

Professionals in the long-term care sector say a government wage top-up - not just a free tuition program - is what's needed to solve a shortage of workers in that field. (Shutterstock / Lighthunter)

Workers in the long-term care field say an increase to the provincial wage subsidy for support staff — not just a free tuition program — is needed to help solve a shortage of people filling those jobs.

Last week, the New Brunswick government announced it would pay the full tuition cost and related expenses for those training to become either personal support workers or human services counsellors, as a way to address a shortage of those professionals working in long-term care homes and in home-care.

Courtney Thibodeau has worked as a personal support worker for about five years and said, while it's good the province is helping those who want to get trained, she doesn't think it will solve the shortage.

"People are going to sign up for this because it's free and then realize that they're not getting paid very much. And so they're just going to leave and go find something else," Thibodeau said.

Courtney Thibodeau, a personal support worker who works in home-care, said she thinks the government needs to top up the wages she and others in the field receive. (Submitted by Courtney Thibodeau)

Human services workers are paid directly by the company or agency they work for, but since 2016, the provincial government has topped up the wages they receive, said Jan Seely, president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association.

She said she supports the free tuition program, but added the announcement should have come with a plan for the province to increase the top-up for personal support staff, which sits at $3.50 for those working in special care homes.

"Right now, everything is in the hands of government," Seely said.

"If they really want this to be successful and to help meet the tremendous dire shortage we have for workers, they do need to come up with a plan for wages," she said, adding that the average wage for personal support workers in special care homes in New Brunswick is $14.50.

Jan Seely, president of the New Brunswick Special Care Home Association, says a wage top-up would help with the shortage of support staff working in the long-term care industry. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

The Department of Social Development didn't make anyone available for an interview, but in an email statement, spokesperson Robert Duguay said the province invested $12.4 million this year to fund wage increases for workers in the human service sector.

He said the wage increases affected more than 10,000 workers and included increases of 20 cents per hour for staff working in home support, 50 cents per hour for those in special care homes, 75 cents per hour for those in community residences, $1.30 per hour for family support workers, and $1.30 per hour for attendant care staff.

A report released in May by the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity looking into wages for staff in care facilities, determined that fair wages for those workers would range from $22.44 to $25.91 an hour. That's compared to the current wages they receive of between $14.50 and $16.80 an hour.

The report also called on the province to implement a five-year plan to reach pay equity in the community care sector, which includes increased public investments in wages "until pay equity is achieved."

Staff working in human services should be making between $22.44 an hour and $25.91 an hour, according to the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity (New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity)

Seely said she supports the coalition's recommendation, but added it would be expensive, costing the province between $70 million and $100 million annually.

"We recognize that New Brunswick probably doesn't have $100 million, but at the same time... if those people live in a nursing home or wait in hospital for months and months, you're pretty quickly going to come up to that money," she said.

"So the money is there. We need a reform of the long-term care system."

Wages mean living 'paycheque to paycheque'

Thibodeau said when she first graduated as a personal support worker, she was making about $13 an hour working for a home-care agency.

Back problems she developed due to the work she was doing, plus a desire to earn more money, eventually pushed her to switch to working part-time as a personal support worker, and part-time as an administrative assistant.

She said she currently makes about $16 an hour in her role as a personal support worker.

"It's OK. We can work with it, but it's, it would be really nice to be able to get that little bit of extra more money to be comfortable, because right now it's just kind of paycheque to paycheque and we just put a little tiny bit aside for savings."

Terry Slipp, the owner-operator of Shaw's Special Care Home in Waterville, said he thinks the provincial top-up for personal support workers should go up by $5 an hour.

He said the wages he pays his six personalgosupport workers comes from a combination of what the clients pay, and what the top-up offers, and defended himself against what he said is a misconception that operators are "getting rich" at the expense of staff.

"I can show you my T4 slip, my income from last year and it probably was the lowest amount of money I ever made," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Journalist

Aidan Cox is a journalist for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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