About 50 personal support workers (PSWs) hit the picket line in Sudbury Wednesday to protest their wages.
They joined 4,500 PSWs across the province, who work for the for-profit care provider Red Cross Care Partners.
“I haven't seen a raise in six years,” said Louise Leeworthy, a PSW and chief steward for the SEIU Healthcare union in Sudbury.
Leeworthy said the starting wage for a PSW with Red Cross Care Partners is $14.17 an hour. After 6,000 hours of work experience they reach the highest wage within the company — $15.02 an hour.
PSWs with the company are also compensated for mileage at a rate of 34 cents per kilometre. But Leeworthy said beyond that rate, they are not paid for the time it takes them to visit their clients.
In a typical 10-hour workday, she visits between eight and 15 clients around Sudbury.
Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, told Northern Life the government needs to set aside more compensation for PSWs, especially with the increased reliance on home care for an aging population.
“They have been offloading work from hospitals and nursing homes for years now,” Stewart said.
France Gélinas, NDP MPP for Nickel Belt, and the party's health critic, questioned the provincial government's commitment to PSWs in the legislature Wednesday.
“Their priority is to deliver the highest quality of care to their patients, and striking is the absolute last resort, but these PSWs have been left with no other choice because of their terrible working conditions,” Gélinas said. “Will the minister finally stop ignoring the pleas of Ontario’s PSWs and fix the problems in our home-care system?”
Red Cross Care Partners' 4,500 PSWs in Ontario serve around 48,000 clients across the province.
The strike, which could go on indefinitely, will affect the level of care those clients receive, Stewart said.
But Tanya Elliot, a spokesperson for Red Cross Care Partners, said the care provider has a contingency plan in place to serve its clients.
Each client's situation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, she said, and those who require the highest level of care may be temporarily transitioned to another care provider.
“The safety and well-being of our clients is our top priority and our focus right now,” Elliot said.
PSWs with SEIU Healthcare union have been without a contract since April and have been in a legal strike position for several weeks.
They rejected a tentative agreement from Red Cross Care Partners in November.
Elliot said no additional dates to meet with the union have been scheduled so far, but added the “lines of communication remain open.”
Connie Phillion, a Subury PSW who was on the picket line Wednesday, said $16 to $17 an hour, with compensation for mileage, would not be unreasonable for her.
“We need to realize health care is so neglected,” she said. “The government keeps saying that we are getting more important as time goes on, to give people care and keep them in their homes. Well they've got to throw money at it. That is the bottom line.”