Ottawa

Home-care workers say low wages are driving them out of the sector

There are growing concerns from home-care workers and advocates that unless more money is invested in the sector, workers will continue to find jobs inside long-term care and hospital settings, putting Ontario's home-care clients in jeopardy. 

'We're going to see an exodus of staff who work in home care,' says advocacy group

'So many of my co-workers, they left home care and they went to long-term care,' says Connie Ndlovu, president of CUPE Local 7797. (CBC)

Personal home-care support workers say they are being ignored, underpaid and exploited during this pandemic, leaving little incentive to stay in the sector.

"Most people working in home care are predominately women of colour and they are forgotten. The wages are crappy wages, the working conditions are exploitive and the funding doesn't sustain any benefits for these women," says Connie Ndlovu, a home-care personal support worker in the Toronto area and president of CUPE Local 7797.

"So it does become a race and gender issue in home care." 

Ndlovu says she often takes care of frail seniors who live alone in their own homes, providing baths, medication assistance, meal preparation, light cleaning and socialization.

There are growing concerns from home-care workers and advocates that unless more money is invested in the sector, workers will continue to find more lucrative jobs.

"PSWs, like myself, had to choose whether to stay in home care or to go to long-term care for better pay. So many of my co-workers, they left home care and they went to long-term care," says Ndlovu. 

She says PSWs often use public transit to get to their clients' homes, but they're not always paid for time or costs related to travel. 

40% of referrals unfilled

Sue Vanderbent, CEO of Home Care Ontario, which represents more than 70 organizations, says all organizations are struggling with staff leaving.

She says home-care personal support workers generally make $4 an hour less than those working in nursing homes or hospitals. 

"We're going to see an exodus of people, of staff who work in home care now," says Vanderbent. 

Already, she says, about 40 per cent of the home-care referrals are not being filled because there are not enough workers to tend to these patients. 

"We have been telling government, we have been signalling this alarm," says Vanderbent. 

No government funding for home care

The Ontario government recently announced significant investments in long-term care.

Sue Vanderbent, CEO of Home Care Ontario, says all organizations are struggling with staff leaving. (Submitted )

"We are advocating so hard to say, 'You must make a similar investment in the home-care system,' because they're interconnected workforces. [Home-care workers] will move and they will destabilize care to Ontarians," says Vanderbent.

Home Care Ontario has produced a pre-budget submission, pointing to what it calls the chronic underfunding of home care, and calling for $373 million in stabilization funding to attract and retain staff. 

The Ontario government also recently committed to training thousands more PSWs across the province, but Ndlovu worries that would further pit new workers against those already trying to make ends meet in the home-care sector. 

"So if there's money for training, there should be money for the PSWs who are already in the field now. Increase the wages to at least $25 an hour, not temporary premium pandemic pay. It can't be temporary, it has to be a permanent wage increase for the current working PSWs." 

Province should invest in higher wages, better conditions for home care workers, PSW says

1 year ago
Duration 0:52
Connie Ndlovu, a home care personal support worker in the Toronto area, says wages and working conditions need to be improved to encourage employees to stay in the job.

Ontario's "temporary wage enhancement" is set to end on March 31, but the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says it's working "intensely to monitor the impact and evaluate next steps.

"Other interventions are also being explored to improve working conditions in the home and community-care sector, including better scheduling, less travel, and more part-time and full-time work," a ministry spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: cbc.ca/thebandplayedon You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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