A stable pension is more important than ever- for all Ontarians

The second recommendation of SEIU Healthcare’s Sweet$16 campaign is for the Ontario government to offer retirement security to the lowest earning members of our healthcare system- homecare Personal Support Workers. But actually, this is an issue that affects all Ontarians.

Over the past three decades, the number of companies who provide pension plans to their employees has dropped by a substantial rate. Employers are not only eliminating defined benefit plans, but also defined RRSP contribution plans as well.

That means a larger number of homecare workers and Ontarians are being forced to rely entirely on their savings and their Canadian Pension Plan (CPP). Unfortunately, many don’t have enough money saved up for their retirement. Many will be forced to work until they are 70-75 years of age before they can retire.

Many financial experts believe people cannot simply retire on their CPP alone. The CPP pays a measly $600 a month. For some people, that isn’t enough to cover the rent. The vast majority of non-unionized PSWs in the homecare sector don’t make enough money to save for their retirement. And most PSWs don’t even work full-time hours. They usually work part-time, irregular hours that change every week. Imagine driving from one location to the next, without adequate compensation for gas & mileage, paying the bills and taking care of your own family, all on the above salary. That’s barely enough to live off of, let alone try and save. A defined benefit pension plan will bring some more stability and peace-of-mind in an erratic industry.

“As a single parent, if I don’t have a pension, who is going to look after me?” asked Elena Saballero, a homecare worker and SEIU Healthcare member who lives in Toronto. “I only have one child and I can’t expect him to take care of me. If I have a pension, I can look after myself.”

A pension plan will help also help reduce employee turnover. Many PSWs suffer from low wages and irregular work hours. Many also don’t receive any kind of compensation for the time they drive in-between clients. They are leaving homecare and moving into sectors, such as retail and restaurants, where they are given a stable 40-hour work week.

It’s time for employers to start offering defined benefit pension plans to Ontario’s homecare workers. After spending their life looking after our senior population, there is no reason why this group of hard-working healthcare workers cannot retire with ease and comfort in their golden years.

Tell your MPP that Ontario’s homecare workers, our frontline caregivers, not only deserve a minimum of $16/hour, but a defined benefit pension plan as well. Our healthcare system depends on it.



$16/hour minimum for homecare PSWs is a question of need, not just worth

While a group of about 80 personal support workers (PSWs) were talking about SEIU Healthcare’s “Sweet $16” campaign at a conference in Toronto in early March, a woman stood up to make a very important point.

“My only issue,” she said “is only saying that we deserve a $16 per hour minimum wage. We really need it. I can’t afford to live like this anymore.”

In Ontario, unlike PSW work in other sectors such as long-term care, which pays an average of $20/hour, homecare work currently pays far less than what the PSWs both need and deserve.

Chrystal is a single mom who relies on subsidized childcare to afford to go to work. Those are her own words. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work—especially not for healthcare workers who put their heart and soul into keeping people comfortable at home. Chrystal should be able to work full-time, reliable hours at a decent wage, raise her son, and maybe save a little on the side. But that’s not how it is right now.

She provides her services to people in their own homes because she believes that rather than be forced into retirement or long-term care homes, people “should be able to stay where they are comfortable.”

Watch homecare PSW Chrystal talk about her work and what $16/hour would mean to her:

While homecare PSWs do a lot of physical and technical work in the home to monitor and maintain clients’ health, they also provide emotional support and help with social isolation. Many visits start off with a cup of tea or a chat, and sometimes their PSW is the only person a client sees all day or week.

You can see that Chrystal believes in the work she does. She knows her fellow PSWs care, too: “I think homecare workers have their heart in homecare for a reason and that is to help people have a quality of life.”

The only provincial standard for homecare wages is that PSWs must be paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Especially when taking into account the fact that most companies don’t properly reimburse for travel time and distance, or guarantee hours paid, this is not nearly enough.

A $16/hour floor would be a good start, but homecare PSWs and their advocates will need to push for parity with PSW work in the long-term care and hospital sectors.

Higher pay is better for the workers, it’s better for the clients, and it’s better for all Ontarians who will be able to attract and retain skilled PSWs in homecare. And we will all likely need their services one day.


A voice to be reckoned with?!

Whether it’s the worker who stands up for her colleagues in the workplace, the father who demands better care for his ailing child, the student who asks her school for healthy lunch options, the neighbour who goes door to door collecting signatures…advocacy comes in different shapes and sizes.

In order to be an advocate, at the most basic level, you need (a) a voice and (b) direction.

Everyday most of us perform small acts of advocacy. We promote, we assist, we defend, we recommend, we encourage, we advance- sometimes without even realizing we are being advocates.

Advocacy is a compelling tool, and when it is used well, it can be a force to be reckoned with.

One of the best ways to utilize your voice is to champion on behalf of those who aren’t given the opportunity to be heard. Today we commemorate the lives of people around the world who have stood up for the rights of others. But we don’t need to go far to look for these champions.

We have everyday heroes in this organization who have fought and continue to fight for essentials that many of us take for granted- the ability to work without fear & intimidation, fair wages, respect, sick days, and the list goes on. And as Minister Matthews rightly says, as members of SEIU Healthcare, we have educated & informed not only the general public, but our leaders as well. We have raised questions that have garnered the attention of the Premier.

How is this possible? How do we manage to bring our fight all the way to the top? What makes us different is that we are intentional with our advocacy and our fight is values-based. In other words, we don’t fight for the sake of fighting. Rather, we join together and decide what needs to be done, we agree on a plan, and we work towards that plan- together. Our fight is always based on principles, perhaps the most obvious of these being dignity.

We advocate because we know that there is a human face and a real life story behind every healthcare worker.

Healthaholic is about championing for those very voices; to bring healthcare to life.