STRAIT AREA: Support workers in the long-term care sector want the public to know about the challenges they face.
On Monday, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals across Nova Scotia held rallies during a Day of Action.
“We all deserve better and that includes support workers in long-term care who are an important part of the ‘team’ that delivers care,” CUPE Nova Scotia said in a press release. “By not extending any wage adjustments to all job classifications, the PC government is not recognizing the value these workers provide. This includes dietary and kitchen staff, laundry, maintenance, recreation, and others who work in support positions in nursing homes.”
Calling on the government to increase wages for support staff, rallies were held in Arichat at St. Ann Community and Nursing Care Centre, at Milford Haven Home for Special Care in Guysborough, at the Inverness legion, at the Unifor Hall in Port Hawkesbury, and on Grenville Street in St. Peter’s.
According to organizers of the rallies, the provincial government gave a raise to continuing care assistants (CCAs), but nothing for support workers despite the fact they are over worked and under-staffed.
On Feb. 9, the province announced that wages for unionized and non-unionized CCAs will increase by approximately 23 per cent, bringing the top annual salary to $48,419. For most full-time CCAs, this was an annual increase of close to $9,000 a year, the province said, noting that those currently at the top of their pay scale will reach this level immediately.
CUPE Local 1782 member Mary MacKay has been a cook at the Richmond Villa in St. Peter’s for 28 years and said she would like to get a raise.
“It seems like everything is always been forgotten about, it always been the CCAs and (Licensed Practical Nurses) but we were never included in anything,” she told The Reporter.
Union member Sherry Fougere has worked at the Richmond Villa for almost 28 years in environmental services.
“I’m hoping for a change. For an example, if you work at the hospital, you get $3 more an hour than we get. If you work in Newfoundland, you’ll be getting $5 more an hour than what we get,” she stated. “Enough is enough. We’ve always been told it’s your turn next; well here it is, give it to us. We’re part of the team. It takes a team to run a nursing home. Show us that we are important.”
Union local recording secretary Betty-Ann Marchand is a CCA who said support workers are “very important.”
“We need everybody to make sure days go by smoothly and they deserve better wages and they deserve what they’re looking for,” she noted. “They need time off, they need to be recognized.”
In Port Hawkesbury, CUPE Local 3630 President Caroline Latimer said this is about “fairness for all.”
“Long-term care has been in a crisis since a long time, even before COVID, but since COVID it’s even gotten worse. We just want to make (the government) aware that this needs to be handled now,” she said. “This should be about resident-focused care and the government needs to see that the resident deserve the best. When their foundation is good, and when they can give the staff exactly what they need, and the supports they need, and help them, they’re only helping the elderly to have a better quality of life.”
The President of CUPE Local 3630 said what happens in one part of long-term care affects all sectors.
“Everybody plays an important role in long-term care and that’s the thing, and that’s what we want the government to realize,” she stated. “We just want the government to wake up and realize enough is enough. It’s time now that they recognized that we do need better wages, better support in our workplaces. There is a staffing shortage, we have issues, they need to be handled, and it’s the money that’s going to fix it.”
Latimer told The Reporter that the ratio of staff to residents needs to increase.
“When it comes to working short staff, it’s not so much with the support workers, but they have a hard time getting workers. They’re staff is very minimal. The support staff, they don’t have a lot of extra staff. If they want to have a day off, they’re trading off their days off, just to get a day off,” she said. “Our kitchen staff, they’re working beyond their work. They’re not getting their vacation time; they’re not getting their breaks. They need extra staff in that kitchen. These girls are working 10 hour days, and they’re not getting a break half the time. They’re showing up ready just to try to keep up with the workload.”
In a statement issued on June 27, Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Barbara Adams said Nova Scotians deserve to know they will have the level of care they need as they age, and they will.
Noting that care workers are fully committed, the minister pointed to her “long career” in continuing care.
“It takes an entire team of workers to provide exceptional care. We know care is more than what is provided by doctors, nurses and continuing care assistants,” she said. “Care includes making sure linens and buildings are clean; nutritious food is prepared, delivered and served; and activities are designed and delivered to ensure residents are engaged mentally and physically. It is making sure buildings operate properly; repairs are made as required and administrative functions are carried out. All of this important work is done by housekeepers, laundry workers, food-service workers, cooks, maintenance teams, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, recreation teams, administration teams and so many other hard-working people.”
Asserting that her government believes in open and fair collective bargaining, Adams said the place to discuss terms and conditions of employment, including wages, is at the bargaining table. The minister pointed to the “serious commitment to improve health care,” specifically the increased budget for the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care by $142 million.
“We are investing in recruitment, training, workplace safety, higher levels of care for our loved ones and so much more,” she stated. “We are ready to try new ideas and work with you to find solutions to the challenges we face.”