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CUPE members working in the home care sector met this week in Ottawa to share information and develop strategies to improve working conditions and the availability of services to clients in the sector.

CUPE members provide personal care and support to help seniors and people living with chronic illnesses remain in their homes, and to help people recover from surgery at home. The care and support they provide includes assistance with bathing and dressing, preparing meals, helping people eat, house cleaning, and making sure people take their medications.

Their wages and benefits are among the lowest in the health care sector, and the majority of those who don’t work directly for regional health authorities don’t have benefits - such as pensions - comparable to other sub-sectors in health care.

Home care is not covered by the Canada Health Act as a ‘medically necessary service’, despite being called ‘the next essential service’ in the 2002 report of the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Home care programs, a critical part of our health care system, have been established at the provincial level without the benefit of national standards and outside the requirements of the principles of the CHA regarding public administration, portability, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility.

Members learned conditions for home care workers in Saskatchewan, where home care is publicly funded and delivered through the regional health authorities, are quite different from those in New Brunswick where home care workers earn the minimum wage of 9.50 dollars per hour working for the Canadian Red Cross, a not-for-profit agency.

The lack of guaranteed hours of work in Nova Scotia and Ontario means home care workers are at a significant disadvantage in feeling confident in reporting occupational health and safety concerns for fear of losing hours.

Home care workers work alone, often traveling long distances to visit their clients, sometimes clocking as much as 200 kilometers in one day (in their own car), to visit anywhere from six to 13 clients in one day.

All members reported they are expected to provide more care and support to people in a shorter amount of time–the minimum time for a home care visit having been reduced from two hours to one hour in Ontario.

CUPE members who perform this work are called by a variety of titles: Personal Support Worker, Community Health Worker and Continuing Care Assistants. They are the backbone of the continuing care sub-sector in health care and provide 70-80 per cent of the care delivered in the home.