Ford government plans more low wages for women health care workers

Posted on August 12, 2022 in Equality Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributor
Aug. 9, 2022.   By Xolisiwe (Connie) Ndlovu, Contributor

Ontario continues to pursue a low-wage strategy for the female health care workforce, a strategy that is quickly demolishing health care in Ontario. 

Everywhere, women health-care workers are quitting. It is even worse in the home care sector. We have had enough of the violence, the irregular work weeks, the unpaid time between clients, the lack of pensions, and the low wages.

With inflation running at over 8 per cent and construction workers bargaining wage increases up to that level, the Ford government is sticking public sector workers — who are predominantly women — with a 1 per cent wage increase for three years.

Over 45,000 health care jobs are vacant in Ontario. You would think that the Ford government would learn a lesson from this. But no. Instead, it is doubling down on its low-wage strategy for health-care workers. It cannot recruit or retain hospital workers? No problem. Move patients to for-profit retirement homes where compensation is a fraction of hospital pay.

Here in home care, things are particularly bad. The previous PC government introduced compulsory contracting out for home care. Home-care service providers had to tender bids on publicly funded contracts to deliver home care services. Private companies promising to deliver low-cost services often won the bids and forced out many non-profit providers.

These low-cost contracts resulted in low wages for workers and a reduced standard of care for patients. The remaining non-profits had to adopt the same practices as the for-profit corporations and focus more on shiny proposals and less on the quality of care.

The result was chaos for local communities. Non-profit providers with decades of experience were cut out. The continuity of care was lost. Workers ended up with irregular hours and constantly sought better opportunities elsewhere — even though most loved their home care work.

In the end, the government was forced to end competitive bidding. There were too many problems. But it had already left its mark — widespread privatization and highly precarious work. Now, things are so bad that only about half of the needed home-care visits can even be scheduled.

Incredibly, the Ford government has quietly begun to examine bringing back competitive bidding. Instead of focusing on how to bring working conditions for the female home care workforce up to the hospital standard, it is looking at bringing back the system that destroyed home care 25 years ago!

Indeed, this is the plan for all of home care. The one area where the female home care workforce was able to maintain decent working conditions was in the Community Care Access Centres (now called Home and Community Care Support Services).

These organizations oversaw the contracted providers. Now the Ford government wants to get rid of the public oversight of the for-profit corporations providing home care and has refused to provide any assurance that these women home care workers will have any protection in the restructuring. On Sept. 1, the government will even bring in a regulation that will let the for-profit home care providers oversee themselves in some ways.

Is there any learning by the Ford government? We are facing a major staffing crisis in health care and nowhere more so than in home care. Yet this government continues to pursue a low-wage strategy for the female health care workforce, a strategy that is quickly demolishing health care in Ontario.

We need to end the war on women health care workers. We need a government that can help make home care an attractive place to work — not a worse place to work.

Xolisiwe (Connie) Ndlovu is a home care worker and the president of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) 7977, representing home care workers in Toronto.

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