The union representing workers at retirement homes across New Brunswick is calling out the provincial government and Shannex, the owner of several homes, for excluding some of the lowest paid workers in retirement homes from accessing the federal fund for COVID-19 wage top-ups.

CUPE 5446 has learned that Brunswick Hall in Fredericton and Lily Court in Saint John have both been approved for the federal fund for wage top-ups, but is beyond disappointed to learn that only those working in direct care will receive it. This means that special care home employees who work in food service, cleaning and recreation are being excluded, even though they have provided vital support to keep homes safe and residents healthy throughout the pandemic.

“It’s insulting and unjust for so many people who have done so much through this challenging time to be excluded from this modest recognition of their hard work,” said Hope Cyr, President of CUPE 5446.

Currently, only “direct care” employees will receive the wage top-up, which amounts to $500 for every 120 hours worked. Due to the way Shannex organizes their workplace, employees will only receive the top-up for hours worked in “direct care”, and not in any support role like cleaning or serving food, despite the fact that many employees regularly perform many direct and indirect duties over the course of a shift.

Cyr noted the exclusion of so many workers also becomes a pay equity issue when the overwhelming majority are women, who already earn less than men on average. “We’re calling on the government and Shannex to go back to the drawing board right away to fix this.”

For its part, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity is advocating for pay equity—equal pay for work of equal value—for workers across all female-dominated professions and, as such, in the caregiving sector as a whole.

“This crisis sheds light on the importance of these workers’ contribution to society—and their vulnerability. Because we have systematically undervalued their work for years, that importance is not reflected in their wages. The services provided by workers across the sector merit recognition as well as the wage top-up,” explained Frances LeBlanc, the Coalition Chair. “Yet, we need a permanent solution to ensure equal pay for work of equal value: pay equity legislation in the whole private sector.”