Hundreds of personal support workers on the front lines of COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario have yet to receive the $3-an-hour temporary wage increase the provincial government promised in October, the Star has learned.
The funds were announced Oct. 1 in a press conference where Premier Doug Ford said the pay increase would “ensure this vital profession receives the respect it deserves,” but some PSWs have now been waiting three and a half months for the wage boost as many work long hours in nursing homes with severe outbreaks.
The delays are unacceptable, said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents some of the affected workers.
“These workers are living paycheque to paycheque. Bills don’t wait until February,” said Stewart, who repeated the call advocates have been making for a permanent wage increase. “Without a living wage we will not have the staff required to deliver quality care for our seniors.”
In letters dated Jan. 14 and obtained by the Star, provincial Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton admonished the CEOs of for-profit nursing home operators Extendicare and Chartwell for failing to pay out the extra funds, which she said the government delivered on Dec. 10.
Homes run by Extendicare and Chartwell were among “217 long-term care facilities that have not paid eligible workers” as of Jan. 6, she wrote. “I am calling on you to immediately resolve this matter.”
PSWs are “the backbone of the long-term care sector,” Fullerton said in the letter, urging the CEOs to “prioritize this on the same level of importance as it would paying its shareholders.”
A spokesperson for Extendicare said that as of this week all eligible employees have received the funds owed and will continue to receive the wage increase going forward.
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“We started this work in December after Extendicare received sufficient information from the government to enable us to begin processing this additional pay,” spokesperson Laura Gallant said in an email.
In response to questions from the Star, Chartwell shared a response that CEO Vlad Volodarski wrote to the minister Friday, which acknowledged that some workers had not yet received the wage increase. Volodarski cited several factors including the company’s conversion to a new payroll system and “initial delay” receiving details from the government.
“All pending back-pay for our eligible PSWs for all homes will be complete by month-end,” Volodarski said. “With the conversion of our payroll system now fully implemented, we believe we will be able to respond faster to similar requests in the future.”
The October pay increase affects 147,000 workers, with a $3-an-hour wage increase for PSWs in long-term care, community and home care, and a $2-an-hour wage increase for PSWs in hospitals, to reflect pay differences. The government said at the time that the wage enhancement will be reviewed regularly and could extend through March 31, 2021.
The first round of the Ontario government’s “pandemic pay” wage increase, delivered to front-line workers including PSWs last spring, came with similar delays. That increase, which was $4 an hour, applied from April 24 to Aug. 13.
Stewart of the health-care workers union said the most recent delay affected thousands of workers, between hospital and nursing home PSWs.
“This is just another example of really bad mismanagement and communications,” said Stewart. “There’s nobody these workers can believe anymore. Nobody.”
Krystle Caputo, the minister’s press secretary, said long-term-care operators should “release all outstanding funds to personal support workers immediately.”
“Personal support workers don’t have the option to wait to show up to work, likewise no home should wait to pay them,” she said in an emailed statement. “These frontline heroes are working under extremely challenging conditions and it’s unacceptable that some workers are still waiting for their wage increase.”
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