On May 19th, 2016 Unifor salutes the many thousands of Unifor members employed as Personal Support Workers (PSWs) on occasion of the Ontario celebrations for Personal Support Worker Day. PSWs are a vital and substantial proportion of Ontario’s health care workforce and provide much needed assistance to resident or clients with their activities of daily living in hospitals, or in the community in long-term care and at home.
If nurses are considered the backbone of the health system, PSWs are the direct, front-line and hands-on care providers — literally and figuratively, the very muscle that provides the lift and care for resident/clients so essential to their quality of life.
On PSW Day, the provincial government needs to commit to ensuring a safe workplace and building a more stable personal support workforce, including measures to create more permanent and less casual employment for PSW, as well as supporting PSWs with continuous learning and robust and relevant educational opportunities through our public education system.
The risk of work-related loss time injuries and disability for PSWs is regrettably also high in consequence of their working conditions. Inadequate staffing levels, heavy workloads and the physical demands of patient lifting and repositioning invariably tear and wear down the muscles and/or joints of these caregivers.
The health care sector in Ontario experiences the second highest total number of lost-time injuries, according to WSIB data. The sprains and strains of patient care, including musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) accounted for 41 per cent of lost time injuries in Ontario while workplace violence accounts for another 10 per cent of lost time injuries. Workplace violence is three times more likely to occur among healthcare workers than any other occupation, including police officers and prison guards.
The provincial government also needs to commit to a regulatory minimum enforceable standard set at four (4) hours of care in long-term care homes where PSWs provide over two-thirds of nursing and personal care hours. That commitment must be matched with ensuring adequate funding for long-term care to reach that minimum standard.
In the beleaguered home care sector, access to and insufficient hours of care for clients and precarious employment for workers plague the sector. This year, the Ontario government must set a priority goal of ensuring long-term care and home care service providers improve consistency of PSW patient/client assignment by 50% to enhance safe and quality care for residents and clients served by PSWs.
While Unifor welcomed the Ontario Government’s initiative to increase the hourly wage of PSWs in home care to $16.50 by April 1, 2016 as a step towards ensuring a decent living wage; they must now focus some attention on ensuring there are regularly scheduled hours, to create stable employment and make these jobs attractive to recruit younger workers.
A regular, predictable work schedule is critical to providing resident-centered care — where residents or clients enjoy continuity of care provider and consistency of assignment of staff. This requires ensuring regular full-time employment at every opportunity and an end to the ‘casual’ just-in-time scheduling.
As Ontario moves forward with fundamental health system transformation including efforts to better coordinate and integrate care in the community, we need to respect the lessons of the past and end the destructive practice of for-profit companies bidding for home care contracts, and exerting downward pressure on wages and conditions of employment. When it comes to caring for our parents and grandparents, we must avoid a race to the bottom that offers the least amount of care at the least cost.