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Toronto, ON Now that the “ill-conceived” registry for personal support workers (PSWs) has been scrapped, the 20,000 PSWs represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario in long-term care, hospitals and community care are asking for the issue of regulation for PSWs to be made a priority.

Educational requirements and occupational demands on PSWs have increased significantly over the last five years. “Despite this, the government’s economic interest has been to perpetuate the exploitation of PSWs in the home care sector by denying them effective self-regulation, available to most other occupations. Our expectation is equal treatment with Ontario’s other professions and trades,” says Michael Hurley first vice-president of CUPE Ontario.

While the province has been somewhat responsive to the low wages paid PSWs, the majority of the workforce is not paid for mileage, not paid for travel time or provided the protections similar to other health sector workers. Home care PSWs do not have guaranteed hours of work. They are expected to be on call for up to 12 hours each day, but only have three or four hours paid work, providing care and supports for increasing ill home care patients. PSWs also lose hours if a home care recipient dies or is hospitalized.

“Why are these mostly racialized female workers, treated differently than most other occupations? It’s time for the government to dignify PSWs by treating them with respect and provide a regulatory regime that benefits both patients and workers,” says CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer Candace Rennick.

With the coming health service restructuring there is ample opportunity for the province to get it right. Serious consideration should be given to reversing a questionable Progressive Conservative (PC) policy from the mid-1990s, that when they were in opposition, the provincial Liberals did not support. The PCs changed delivery of care from non-profit, community agencies like the Victorian Order of Nurses to mostly large-scale for-profit providers skimming between 15-20 per cent of provincial funding for shareholders.

“That’s money not going into patient care or decent working conditions for PSWs. Ontario patients deserve a public home care system,” says CUPE Ontario health sector chair Kelly O’Sullivan. “But unfortunately one Ontario opposition party is silent and the other is raising red herrings about the registry. This does PSWs and home care recipients little good. The real focus should be ending the continued exploitation of PSWs by backing their demand for guaranteed hours of work, more stable work and more care for patients.”

Rather than suggest that the registry is a “proud” moment, CUPE Ontario is encouraging the Premier and health minister to use the coming provincial budget to “move on normalizing the work of PSWs through more stable hours and work arrangements and transitioning the sector back to non-profit delivery. This would benefit both patients and PSWs enormously.”

For more information please contact:

Kelly O’Sullivan, CUPE Ontario health sector Chair 416-529-9600
Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario Secretary-treasurer 416-799-5109
Michael Hurley, CUPE Ontario 1st Vice-president 416-884-0770
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications 416-559-9300