Health corporations were paying poverty wages even before conservative meltdown hit.
by Ish Theilheimer
HAMILTON, ON, March 7, 2009 – a special PublicValues.ca report – Even before the economic crisis hit, the people in Ontario's health care system who do the heavy lifting were struggling to make ends meet, and now they're facing the prospect of widespread layoffs and cutbacks.
The head of the union representing 20,000 hospital clerks, housekeepers, paramedics and registered practical nurses says many of her members have been working for years, in some cases, with expired contracts due to inadequate hospital funding. Now she expects staff cuts to be announced later this month following the provincial budget.
"Whenever there's a deficit, people look at the bottom, the grassroots, the real providers of service," says Sharleen Stewart, President of Service Employees International Union-Canada. "If they lay off our members, it's going to have a huge impact on the delivery of health services in this province, which is already in crisis."
She says many hospitals and health care companies failed to reach new contracts in 2007 and 2008, "when the economic crisis wasn't as relevant as it is now." Now, she says, "They're using it as an excuse. They're using their poor management from 2007 and 2008, and hiding it."
SEIU-Canada's Secretary-Treasurer Cathy Carroll says a crisis in home care is looming as they bargain with the Red Cross over new contracts. "The big issue is travel time, where workers aren't paid for travel between their clients," said Carroll. "Combined with the low wage they get, it puts them under the poverty line." The union has been lobbying the government to put more money into travel time so they can attract more people into the field.
"Given the economic time, there's jobs within that sector, it's a growing industry," said Carroll. "The government should be looking at how do we improve the working conditions of people in that sector," she said. "People are not going to be attracted to that sector until the government puts the funding there to make the job worthwhile to go out and do."
Sharleen Stewart and Cathy Carroll of SEIU-Canada talk about how home care services are being affected by the economic crisis: (5:11)
Bringing down the cost of health care is a central concern for governments, and better home care services are usually cited as a component of health care reform. "They keep saying home care's the answer," said Carroll. "And we believe home care's the answer, but until you have a stable, well-compensated workforce to deliver home care, you're not going to have the resources you need to move forward."
Stewart says health care "has become a commodity for a lot of for-profit corporations," with home care a case in point. "If it was managed right and brought into the public system, it could be an economic stimulus. As well, it could be something the government could control under their own envelope, rather than worried about dollars and the profiteers coming in."
"As long as there's always that profit line... then you're going to see bad results in the delivery of service."
Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since founding it in September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.