The Ontario government’s commitment to a four-hour care standard in long-term care homes is welcome, says the union representing 35,000 long-term care workers in the province.

Candace Rennick, the Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario, said the union is pleased that the government is taking action to enhance the quality of life for seniors and workers.

“We support any move by the government that makes a tangible difference towards improving conditions for residents and workers in long-term care homes,” Rennick said. “This commitment is a big and necessary step forward towards meaningful reform. If implemented properly, this would be a huge victory for residents and workers.”

However, Rennick said a minimum care standard must be legislated rather than being included in regulation.

“A quality care standard that has the force of legislation behind it offers better protection to residents and workers. We don’t believe it’s in the public interest to be left to regulation, which can be removed or altered at the stroke of a pen without public consultation.”

CUPE expects to be consulted throughout this process, as it has the knowledge and expertise to provide guidance on staffing issues and the implementation of a care standard,” she said.

Rennick said the government’s four-year timeline to meet the care standard was not ambitious enough, pointing to Quebec’s efforts towards hiring 10,000 long-term care workers during the pandemic.

“We recognize that recruiting a large number of workers is a challenge, particularly in the midst of a staffing crisis as well as a pandemic. But there has to be a greater sense of urgency in meeting a basic standard of care. We believe the process can be expedited through a comprehensive staffing strategy, which includes measures akin to those taken by Quebec.”

Michael Hurley, President of Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/ CUPE, said the government’s staffing plan must make the job attractive by ensuring well-paying and stable jobs.

Quebec has successfully boosted staffing levels by offering $26 for full-time employment with benefits and pension and $21 for training, he said.

“Long-term care workers deserve full-time employment with fair compensation, access to benefits, a pension and decent working conditions. We have seen the consequences of undervaluing their work, which has resulted in an exodus of workers and a staffing crisis. That should never happen again.”

Fred Hahn, the President of CUPE Ontario, thanked the Ontario NDP for keeping this issue alive on the legislative agenda. The New Democrats have introduced a four-hour minimum care standard legislation four times since 2016, and recently released a comprehensive plan to overhaul the sector.

Hahn promised that CUPE would hold the Ontario PC government to account on its stated commitment.

“We are mindful that this is in part due to the tragic failures of a broken system, which has cost over 1,900 lives during the pandemic. I’m proud of the way our union has worked with coalition partners and the Ontario NDP to bring us to this moment. Reforming long-term care is a priority and we will continue advocating along with our partners and community allies to hold this government to account on its promises,” he said.

Debra Maxfield, the Chair of CUPE Ontario’s Health Care Workers Coordinating Committee, said this was a big moment for CUPE members who have been fighting for a minimum care standard in long-term care homes for over a decade.

“Our members, both in long-term care and throughout CUPE Ontario, have been organizing and campaigning for more than a decade about the need for a legislated minimum care standard, because they know how important this is for seniors. And workers know first-hand the repercussions of not having good working conditions in long-term care homes. This is a testament to our collective efforts, with others across Ontario, and I want our members to feel the importance of this announcement in relation to all their hard work and advocacy over the years.”