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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.