Counsellors and support staff at adult residential centres and group homes are gearing up for a strike vote after two days of unproductive conciliation meetings. The employees work at residential homes and facilities across the province, from Sydney to Yarmouth, and are represented by CUPE.

“The employer presented us with a final offer Tuesday morning and refused to look at our counter proposals,” says CUPE representative Kim Cail. “In fact, we have had no meaningful negotiations at all, with the employer electing to go straight to conciliation after a half day meeting in May.”

The government is offering counsellors a wage adjustment equal to what was given to Continuing Care Assistants in the province; however, counsellors have more responsibilities than CCAs and have historically been paid more, says Cail. “Counsellors administer medications and treatments and are frequently exposed to extreme violence and high behaviours,” says Cail.

“Plus, they often work without direct support from management. They deserve more.”

Counsellors currently earn approximately $5 per hour less than their counterparts working in long-term care facilities or within acute care sites.

“Our members are barely hanging on because of not being able to earn a living wage,” says Cail. “In fact, there has been a mass exodus of staff in the past nine months. People are following the money to other sectors where they can earn more.”

CUPE is also asking for a defined benefit pension plan for all members. Right now, only some of the members have a defined benefit pension plan, while most have RRSPs.

And there are members at some locations earning less than their counterparts working elsewhere. “We want to bring everybody up to the same level,” says Cail. “We’re at the end of our patience. Something has to be fixed.”