Calling all families of homecare

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When I was 11 years old, there was a fire at my house and my little sister, who was 10 at the time was badly burned. 80% of her body was covered with scar tissue and it took a lot of sensitive skin grafting to heal her. Afterwards, I took care of her. I helped with her physio, changed her dressings, prepared her medications because she couldn’t do it for herself and help her dress. As a burn victim she had to wear special clothing all over her entire body.

That’s why I became a PSW. Through caring for my sister, I found I wanted to help others. Someone has to do it. This happened in the mid-1980s and there weren’t homecare services like we have today. As a front line PSW I can give people the assistance they need to keep their lifestyles as they were before the ailment hit them. Andy Elliot, Personal Support Worker

The truth is, many of us probably don’t even realize that homecare impacts us. But think about your neighbours, parents, grandparents and friends. How do they survive day to day? Chances are they are a homecare recipient. In other words, someone comes to their home on a regular basis to support their living, whether it’s a bath, cleaning up after them, feeding them, doing their laundry, and so on (though we know that homecare workers do so much more than that).

When was the last time you checked in to see what type of care your loved ones have received? Often times we don’t, because we are confident that our families are receiving some of the best care under the wing of frontline homecare workers such as Andy.

Andy’s story above is one of the many reasons why it’s important we, as a collective whole, rise for homecare. People who are or will be impacted by homecare are all around you: the person sitting next to you on the bus, driving alongside you on the highway, standing in front of you in the lunch line- all of these folks either know someone who has received homecare or will one day need these services themselves. But PSWs aren’t the only ones with stories- families of homecare have some of the most touching accounts. That’s why we are calling on families of homecare to come forward and join the movement. Tell us how your life has been impacted by homecare; it’s time we hear from you.

 

A great announcement and a great day…but now what?

April 29, 2014 was a special day. Two groups of people that don’t normally spend a lot of time together packed a large room in the Toronto Reference Library: personal support workers (PSWs) and politicians.

“Today I wish to pay special respect to those who work in community and homecare,” said the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Deb Matthews, to the PSWs who had made the trip. “The bottom line is you’re not paid enough.”

As a homecare PSW in Ontario for more than 20 years, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of changes. Throughout the years, we went from making more money for less work, to a declining progression of making less money for more work.

The main reason is no pay increase in years, while everything else has sky-rocketed, such as gas, car insurance, repair and maintenance, and this is just to get out to work. Then there is rent, mortgage, food, uniform, and often child care, just to mention a few essentials. – Carmen Barnwell, PSW from Oakville

Minister Matthews and her staff had invited unions and professional associations to attend a big announcement about homecare funding. The government was hinting that it would be a raise to go directly to homecare workers.

A sea of purple filled the room. Minister Matthews herself wore a mauve dress as a nod to the colours of SEIU Healthcare, the union that has been lobbying to fix the homecare system for over 20 years. Many of the PSWs in attendance were nervous and excited to see if their work on the “Sweet $16” campaign was going to make change.

John Newman, a PSW client, spoke on stage, sitting in his wheelchair. He teared up saying he “didn’t look forward to [his] future” before starting homecare. His wife Shirley said that John’s PSW takes such good care not only of him, but her as well by relieving her “of a lot of thinking and worrying.”

Before making their announcement, both Minister Matthews and Finance Minister Charles Sousa took some time to share their stories about homecare workers. “You make us all so very, very proud” said Charles Sousa to the PSWs in purple shirts. And Deb Matthews played the Walk-a-day video she did with PSW Juliette Chesney from Milton, Ontario, who was also in the crowd.

The Minister spoke about a SEIU Healthcare PSW from Hamilton. She said: “Last year, Rachel made $16,000. She’s counted among the working poor. She’d make a lot more money working in long-term care or in a hospital.”

Then, the Minister gave details. She promised that all publicly-funded homecare and community care personal support workers in Ontario would get a raise of $1.50 retroactive to April 1, 2014, regardless of whether or not the Liberal budget were to pass. The room erupted in celebration.

Since then, an election has been called for June 12, 2014. Deb Matthews has repeated that the $1.50 across-the-board raise will be given to all Ontario publicly-funded homecare and community care PSWs. But with election campaigns in full swing, no one knows yet exactly when or how that money will be paid out. The rest of the items Minister Matthews promised depend on the outcome of the election on June 12.

Tim Hudak recently said a PC government would cancel planned raises to homecare PSWs. SEIU Healthcare is calling on Andrea Horwath’s NDP to match or surpass the historic measures for homecare workers promised by the Liberal government.

Sweet $16 is a platform to advocate for several key changes to homecare, but the compensation issue stands out. All political parties should commit to immediate raises for homecare PSWs and working hard to fix the many issues faced by the sector, for the betterment of both the workers and their dear clients.

G.W.

Why homecare workers need a raise

This short video reminds Ontarians what homecare personal support workers (PSWs) do and how much we rely on them as a society. Almost everyone knows a special someone who is keen (or even insistent) on staying at home because they want to live independently. But they need help. Homecare PSWs need help too. The Sweet $16 campaign is about more than wages, however. It calls on the Ontario government to do four concrete things to fix the Ontario homecare system. Share the video and email your MPP to help raise awareness about this issue!

G.W.

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.

G.A.D.

$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.

G.W.