- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

"We know the wages of PSWs do not reflect the critical role they have played throughout this pandemic, in addition to their ongoing care of our loved ones," said Premier Ford. "Today's temporary investment will bridge that gap and ensure this vital profession receives the appreciation and respect it deserves."

“Heroes” “Champions” “overworked and underpaid”. These are phrases Premier Ford has used regularly to describe Personal Support Workers (PSWs).
So let's see what the Ontario government has done for these heroes. We'll cover money in this article, and working conditions in the next.

After an 8-month program of study and clinical placements, the average PSW in Ontario can start a job at $15.50 to $22 an hour. Most of those jobs are not full-time, and few have benefits or sick pay. Many PSWs have, until Covid-19, worked at more than one job, either in health care or in other jobs in retail or hospitality.

When the province imposed emergency measures early in the pandemic, they restricted PSWs to one place of health care employment (with the notable exception of those provided by temp agencies who still served multiple facilities.) Some PSWs, fearing for the safety of their own family members when there was a shortage of information and personal protective equipment, chose their outside employment or just stopped working. To staunch the exodus, the Ford government provided employers with $4/hour and a $250 monthly bonus for qualified staff working more than 100 hours.

That pandemic pay did not start until six weeks into the pandemic and it ended August 16, although the emergency orders remained. Other businesses opened up, and once again PSWs were leaving for other work.

Today, Premier Ford announced a new temporary raise of $3/hour for these “front-line heroes” starting October 1, to be regularly reviewed and to last “as long as” six months. For six weeks in late summer/early fall, as the pandemic continued, there was no extra compensation, and it will not now be retroactive. There are no monthly bonuses, no new sick pay or benefits.

(By comparison, the 4500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces who went in to Long-Term Care facilities were paid an extra $78 per day - an Exceptional Hazard Allowance, retroactive to when they started their duties - until September 30. National Defence says the pay recognizes that the personnel had to “face the physical hardship of spending all of their shifts wearing full personal protective equipment for up to 12 hours a day.”)

The PSW Return of Service Program will provide a $5,000 incentive to PSWs who graduated on or after April 1, 2020 in exchange for a six-month commitment in a Long-Term Care home or Home and Community Care agency. In other words, the government believes that people who were in a PSW program but after graduating chose not to enter the field in mid-pandemic, can be lured back to the job by less than two month's wages.

Ford also announced “$700,000 in accelerated personal support worker training for 220 students with prior health experience to practice in Ontario.” In parts of Ontario with higher immigrant populations, care facilities and temp agencies have depended for years on those with qualifications as nurses and even pharmacists and doctors in their own countries to fill staffing gaps.

Taken altogether, the plan is an attempt at a short-term fix for a very long-standing and intractable problem of appropriate staffing for the growing population of those needing complex personal care.



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