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‘Staffing crisis’: Advocates say Alberta disability workers leaving jobs because of low wages

Click to play video: 'Advocates say Alberta disability workers leaving jobs due to low wages' Advocates say Alberta disability workers leaving jobs due to low wages
WATCH: The Alberta Disability Workers Association says the industry is facing a staffing crisis and has launched a campaign calling on the provincial government to take action. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, many of those who work with people with disabilities say they simply can't afford to live on the wages they are making – May 12, 2022

The Alberta Disability Workers Association says the industry is facing a staffing crisis, and it has launched a campaign calling on the provincial government to take action.

The Alberta Disability Workers Association (ADWA) is a provincial advocacy organization for all people employed in Community Disability Services who provide essential services to Albertans with disabilities.

Read more: Lethbridge advocates say people with disabilities largely overlooked during COVID-19 pandemic

Kurtis Matson relies on the daily help of his community support worker, Josh Busuttil, to allow him to live in his own home in Calgary.

Matson says it’s about more than just getting him to appointments, job interviews and outings — it’s a relationship.

“If Josh were to quit this profession and go on to a different profession, it’s almost like being disowned by your own family,” said Matson, who is on the autism spectrum.

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Josh Busuttil has worked with people with disabilities for 12 years. Like other workers in his field in Alberta, he hasn’t had a wage increase since 2014.

“Working with people like Curtis, it’s easy to set those things aside and make those sacrifices in the moment, but then at the end of the day you have to look at your finances and say: how long can I continue this? It’s not sustainable,” Busuttil said.

Read more: Rural Saskatchewan long-term care worker describes strain, burnout

“A lot of people know about the issues that are happening in long-term care homes and the tragedies that happened there. The struggles that we are experiencing are not seeing the light of day,” Busuttil said.

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Matson worries about the idea of changing support workers.

“Especially being autistic, it creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety and stress,” Matson said.

The Alberta Disability Workers Association says many workers are forced to leave their jobs for other employment.

ADWA has started an “Essential but Forgotten” campaign and petition, calling for a 25 per cent wage increase.

Read more: Conflict over historical staircase offends Calgary disability arts group: ‘It reeks of discriminatory practices’

“Right now it’s very difficult to retain staff. We are sinking and we need action now from the government,” said Dale Cena.

Cena is a board member of ADWA and program coordinator at Calgary Scope Society.

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“Clients are losing the people they love that they work with. We are facing a staffing crisis.”

Disability workers are not unionized nor government employees.

There are 15,000 people employed in Community Disability Services who work in support of Albertans with disabilities, according to ADWA.

Alberta’s social services minister said the government values the dedication disability services workers show caring for the most vulnerable Albertans.

Read more: UCP commits to new ‘engagement groups’ after report on Persons with Developmental Disabilities program

Jason Luan said in a statement that the province provided a grant to the Alberta Council for Disability Services to develop a recruitment and retention strategy.

He points out that the average hourly wage in Alberta for disability services workers is higher than in three other provinces.

“In Alberta, the average hourly wage is $18.76. This is higher than Newfoundland $17.32, Saskatchewan $17, and Manitoba $15.11.” Luan said.

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