Over the years, our family has relied on the help, friendship and dedication of personal support workers, both for our son Nicholas and more recently for my mother who needs assistance due to her age. These support workers worked part-time for low wages. More often than not, they were women who were immigrants with skillsets and qualifications not recognized in our country. Once, we had a physician from Haiti who worked for us through an agency for $11.00 per hour. Another time, we had a home support worker from the Philippines who helped with Nick's care while her sister looked after our helper's two young children back in her homeland.
Personal Support Workers, or PSWs, are starting to fight back, but their wage increases equate to worry for clients, families and service provider agencies.
Last week, an article by always erudite Howard Gleckman caught my eye. He wrote in Forbes:
Should the aides who provide home care for frail elders and younger people with disabilities receive a living wage and decent benefits? If they do, how can families, who often are unable to afford care today, be expected to pay those higher wages and benefits? Should the market be allowed to set these prices, or should government intervene through minimum wage and mandatory overtime laws? …. These questions have set off an enormous, but largely unnoticed, political firestorm. In some states, they have pit states against the federal government, people receiving care against their aides, and large home care agencies against independent direct care workers.
In Ontario, exactly the same questions are being asked. This time last year, the then Ontario Liberal Health Minister Deb Matthews and Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced an election promise of an increase in the minimum wage for 34,000 publicly paid Personal Support Workers to $16.50 an hour by April 1, 2016, up 32 per cent from the current rate of $12.50. Implementation of that promise hasn’t been easy. According to the Canadian Union of PublicEmployees (CUPE), some home and community care agencies have chosen not to implement the wage increase or they exclude sick leave, vacation and training hours in the new hourly wages. The sum total effect, says a CUPE spokesperson, is that most Ontario PSWs have yet to receive a wage increase.
The real lives of personal care workers are documented in a new film titled CARE, due for release later this year. The trailer is riveting and I recommend watching it HERE for a clear picture of the human side of our crisis in home and community care.
The care workers depicted in the film are all women. They are mothers and daughters who have left their own families behind in more impoverished countries in order to care for more affluent strangers in the United States. Many care workers in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand match this description. Eva Kittay drills down into the issues surrounding immigrant care workers and the role they play in a larger, profit driven dynamic.
The migration of care workers is caused both by a pull, the need for care workers, and a push, the need of these women to provide for their families. If the pull is the creation of demographics, of women’s entry into the labor market, of the insufficient response of men to the demands of care, of inflexible work structures, and of levels of mobility that spread family members far and wide, the push is created by deeply unjust global economic forces that include a heavy indebtedness of poor nations, by the structural adjustment policies that cut services, gut public education, and drive the middle-class civil servants lower on the economic scale, by the various forces that have been responsible for increasing economic inequality globally, by governments that view the exportation of care workers as a significant source of revenue, to mention but a few. The push, in short, is created by forces of global injustice.
The truth is that people need care and care workers must be able to earn a living wage. My next post will explore innovation to address these dual realities. Stay tuned!