ST. THOMAS, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – April 16, 2009) – Red Cross workers from St. Thomas, who provide important home care services, will begin strike action today in St. Thomas.
Who is on strike and why?
The Canadian Red Cross is under contract to provide home support services to approximately 40,000 Ontarians who are experiencing vulnerable times in their lives, whether through illness, disability, or other circumstances. 3,000 women and men are employed by Red Cross as personal support workers in communities across the province. They’ve been in a legal strike position since May.
What does this have to do with the government?
The government provides funding for all home care services in Ontario. However, rather than providing home care as a public service, the government forces different agencies to compete for three year contracts. Agencies are awarded contracts based on their ability to provide services and, of course, cost. Not surprisingly, agencies have to lower costs to win bids. That cost-cutting impacts the service people receive and the compensation of the people who provide it. Over two years ago, the government promised to set minimum working standards for home care workers – to guarantee that home care professionals wouldn’t be living in poverty. Unfortunately, home care workers are still waiting.
What do you mean by “living in poverty”?
Statistic Canada calculates a “low income cut off” annually. In 2006, a single mother in Toronto with one child had to earn $21,384 a year to be above that cut-off. Many home care workers don’t earn this much. While the government has set a “minimum wage” of $12.50 an hour – home care workers are only paid for a fraction of the hours in their work day. Home care providers spend as much as a third of their day travelling from client to client – time that no home care agency provides real compensation for.
Most people don’t get paid to drive to work. What do you mean by “travel time”?
When home care workers talk about “travel time” they’re not talking about their drive to work. They’re talking about travel they have to do on the job. In most jobs, a worker who’s asked to travel for work is paid for their time on the road. Home care workers, however, are only paid for the time they spend in a person’s home. It’s like a delivery person who’s only paid when they leave their truck. Home care workers spend several unpaid hours a day in their cars or on public transit so they can visit people at home and provide care. As a result, after a day of work they’re often left with less than they’d earn at a minimum wage job – often below the low income cut-off.
The government says they’re putting more money into home care than ever before – including money for travel time. Are they wrong?
The government has not addressed the fundamental problems in home care. In 2005, Elinor Caplan, a former Minister of Health, called on the government to set basic standards for home care workers – a minimum standard to ensure that all workers received at least a basic level of pay, compensation for travel time and some benefits. The government announced $30 million in funding to address these issues in 2006 – but there were two problems. First, they failed to set any standards so there’s no guarantee that the funding will actually reach the women and men who do the work. Second, it’s estimated that the cost of compensating travel time alone would be $51 million. The money the government’s put forward is a fraction of what’s needed.
How can you justify a strike during this economic downturn?
This government found $2.3 billion for corporate tax cuts. If the government put 2 cents aside for every dollar they’re handing out in tax giveaways to profitable businesses home care workers problems would be solved.
What about the clients who depend on their worker?
No one wants a strike – least of all the personal support workers who have often been working with the same clients for many years. Every Red Cross worker is concerned about each of their clients. Every effort is being made to ensure that while the right to strike is being exercised the impact of on clients will be minimal. That’s why we’ve started with one day strike actions. During that one day we’re ensuring that any person who needs regular daily care is visited.