June 23, 2021
SENT VIA EMAIL
The Honourable Rod Phillips, M.P.P.
Minister of Long Term Care
Dear Minister Phillips,
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment to Minister of Long-Term Care.
Unifor represents 30,000 health care workers in Ontario’s health care system, with about half working in the long-term care sector, and we understand the incredible urgency to implement systemic changes for the benefit of residents and staff.
While we appreciate the commitments your government has made towards improvements, for the most part, they have not translated into any measurable relief in the sector. There has been no visible improvement in working conditions, and quite frankly, when temporary pandemic pay ends for PSWs in August, there may be a further exodus as the economy reopens and opportunities become available outside of the sector.
I must stress that LTC workers of all classifications are traumatized after working through what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis. Their stories of “code red” outbreaks are simply heartbreaking. They witnessed the deaths of so many of their beloved residents, in working conditions that were unbearable, as their co-workers fell ill with COVID-19. Two Unifor PSWs are among the 24 health care workers in Ontario who have died of COVID-19 contracted in the workplace.
The reality is that the pandemic exposed a Long-Term Care system that was crumbling. In December of 2019, I asked Premier Ford to spend one shift with me in a nursing home. This was after Unifor held a series of LTC forums across the province, inviting all stakeholders, including front-line workers, families, employers, educators, and government officials. A report compiled by the Ontario Health Coalition, Caring in Crisis: Ontario’s LTC PSW shortage, identified daily staff shortages and extreme turnover rates, with many leaving the sector altogether. The recommendations from that report remain valid today.
There are very concrete measures that can be taken today. These include:
- Transparency: publicly disclose hours of care reported by all LTC facilities with verification from the union in each workplace. Demand disclosure on overtime and agency use and full-time to part-time and casual ratios. Implement a standard of 70% full-time for all classifications.
- Pay: implement permanent pay adjustments for all classifications of LTC workers. In real dollars, these workers have not had a pay increase above inflation in a decade. Wage patterns are set in arbitration and arbitrators have not been generous. Many LTC workers have been denied maintenance of proxy pay equity by for-profit employers, who, to this day, are fighting their responsibility in court. They are being assisted by the Ontario Attorney General’s office. LTC workers in the not-for-profit sector must be exempted from Bill 124.
- Implement a campaign to attract the thousands of qualified PSWs who have left the industry to return. Full-time work with benefits as well as reasonable ratios of staff to residents will be necessary to accomplish this, but if you build it, they will come.
- Move up the time-line on four hours of care. This should be implemented immediately wherever possible.
- Mandate ten paid sick days for all LTC workers. In this sector more than any other, coming to work ill can be deadly.
I respect that your intentions for the sector are to make substantive changes for the good of the residents and the workers, but the process must include the voices of front-line workers and their representatives. I would appreciate a meeting with your team at your earliest convenience.
National President, Unifor