On Thursday, more than 100 people rallied outside Ontario finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office, protesting what they say is a lack of funding for health-care workers — particularly in the long-term care sector.
Sharleen Stewart, president of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), says although the budget covered several factors, it missed the mark when it came to recognizing employees.
“We were hoping that (on) Wednesday, the premier would stand up to all the words that he said for the last year,” says Stewart.
“We hoped he would help improve the lives of these workers who showed up every day for us. We were looking for some respect, some protection and pay in that budget.”
Stephaney Williams, a personal support worker at Altima Care and Community in Scarborough, says it’s disappointing to see a lack of support after the pain and suffering health-care workers in the province endured throughout the past year.
“We’re hurt, you know. A lack of respect. We need protection and we need pay. All health-care workers deserve a fair wage,” says Williams.
They say one major downfall is the lack of pay increases, and ending pandemic pay — something that was put into place last year on a temporary basis. But union leaders say after 20,000 workers contracted the virus — as well as 20 deaths — the least the government can do is to make a pandemic pay increase of four dollars per hour permanent.
“We’ve asked the minister of long-term care to make pandemic pay permanent,” says Katha Fortier with Unifor International. “Imagine working 56 days without a day off. Imagine 60 of your residents have died in that time.”
“They have gone through this without proper paid sick time,” says Stewart. “The PPE has been a challenge throughout the pandemic.”
The province announced more than $650M in funding for staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other investments related to long-term care. Another $4.9B will also be invested over four years.
This will be used to hire thousands of PSWs to help deliver the government’s guaranteed four hours of care, a promise previously made earlier this year. Unions, however, say they need help now.
“If they don’t correct the conditions of work, we can’t see care improve. We can’t wait four years,” says Stewart.
Cathy Parkes, meanwhile, says the lack of investment in long-term care staff isn’t a shock. Parkes lost her father to COVID-19 in Pickering’s Orchard Villa, one of the hardest-hit homes in the area.
If staff were taken care of, Parkes says, it would promote change for the better.
“The core of long-term care is the staff. If you support that and make it a healthy environment and a place where people are getting paid, the trickle-down effect to the residents and the families and everything else would be immense,” says Parkes.
“It just shows there’s been a lot of talk and no action. And the only way we’re going to see change is with an election.”