The Ontario government will provide nearly 150,000 personal support workers with a temporary pay bump in recognition of the work they are doing on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford has announced.
Ford told reporters at a briefing on Thursday afternoon that his government will give 147,000 eligible personal support workers a $3 an hour raise, beginning today and lasting until March.
He said that the premium is both a reward for the work that personal support workers have done already as well as an acknowledgement of the fact that when it comes to COVID-19 “some of the toughest days lay ahead.”
Workers watch as 150 nursing union members show support at Orchard Villa Long-Term Care in Pickering, Ontario on Monday, June 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
“As we enter the second wave we need to stabilize our PSW workforce,” Ford said in making the announcement. We need to make sure that when our loved ones need care there is a PSW there to support them and that means retaining our PSW’s and getting more into the system.”
Back in May, the Ford government announced a $4 per hour pay bump for many frontline healthcare workers including PSW’s but that program came to an end in August and has not been renewed.
In recent weeks, several unions had called on the Ford government to increase pay for nurses and personal support workers to ensure that long-term care homes have access to the staffing that they need to avoid a repeat of the “death and destruction” that occurred in some facilities during the first wave of COVID-19.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association called the pay boost “a great start to what to what we hope is a permanent change.”
SEIU Healthcare President Sharleen Stewart, however, told CP24 that the temporary pay bump is akin to a “band-aid over an oozing wound.”
Stewart also criticized the Ford government for not doing enough to provide fulltime work to personal support workers who sometimes have to take on multiple jobs just to get by.
“How can they tell these workers that you are going to get an increase when your life is at risk over the next five months but not a full-time wage?” she asked. “How can they live going forward? How can they pay their rent? How can they pay their mortgages?”
Ford says he will work to make pay increase permanent
On Thursday, Ford said that personal support workers “are overworked and underpaid” and deserve all of our “appreciation and respect.”
He then fought back tears as he recounted the help that one personal support worker provided to his late mother as she battled cancer in late 2019.
“I remember Sally. I still remember her name. Sally was in my mom’s home when she was fighting cancer and she was there every single day. And you know what was heartbreaking? Sally would take the bus so we got to figure something out about travel expenses too. She would take the bus from home to home and stayed there with my mom. She would stay there all night with her, help her, clean her,” he said before trialing off.
There are 50,000 PSWs eligible for the pay increase in long-term care facilities, 38,000 in home and community care and another 34,000 in children, community and social services.
While the pay bump is temporary right now, Ford said that he hopes to make it permanent before it expires in March.
“When it comes around to March I am going to do everything I can to make sure this is fulltime,” he said. “They deserve it .”
Earlier this week, the Ford government announced that it would also invest $10.3 million in providing $5,000 incentives to 2,000 recent graduates to get them to commit to working in long-term care homes for a six-month period.
There are currently 48 long-term care homes with active COVID-19 outbreaks. That is up from 18 one month ago.