More than 200 nurses, personal support workers (PSWs) and care dispatchers employed locally by ParaMed are among Ottawa’s and the Ottawa Valley’s lowest paid health care workers. But today, these predominantly female workers, represented by CUPE begin workplace actions to increase their wages on par with similar care staff across the region.

Throughout the province including the Ottawa area there is a severe shortage of health care staff. Although owned by nursing home for-profit giant Extendicare, ParaMed pays staff several dollars below the normative wage rates in the health sector. According to CUPE health care coordinator Dan Pike, for employers like ParaMed the low wages paid, and challenging workloads make attracting and retaining qualified staff very difficult. This is the case despite the fact, that unlike their hospital and long-term care counterparts, home and community care staff have the right to strike in Ontario.

“Exploitation of low-waged female workers is never justifiable. At a time when ParaMed and other health care employers are experiencing big staff retention issues and there is a severe shortage of PSWs, registered practical nurses and other health care staff in the region, it is very shortsighted and troubling,” says Pike.

Starting today, CUPE 5170 members who are direct care staff at ParaMed’s Ottawa Valley service, and CUPE 5387 the care dispatch/administrators at the head office in Ottawa will visibly wear bargaining solidarity stickers.

“It is a simple act. But in this case, it is one of solid unity among these health care workers that we urge ParaMed to take seriously. It is a precursor of escalading actions to come. Wage fairness and respect in the workplace are key issues for them,” says Pike.

The province has initiated an overhaul of the health system in Ontario and there is continuing emphasis on more care at home for patients. Already hundreds of patients in Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley receive direct care or administrative care coordination from CUPE members working for ParaMed.

“The health system is in a state of flux and labour force stability at this time is more important than ever. It would be constructive if ParaMed could see how negotiating fair contracts with these home care workers is advantageous to them during this time of health workforce shortages and system-wide restructuring,” says Pike.