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.

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