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PSWs Rally for Decent Work

Peter Votsch - CUPE Local 7797

May 30, 2021
About 50 Personal Support Workers (PSWs), members of CUPE Local 7797 converged on the office of NDP MPP Suze Morrison in the Toronto Centre riding on May 27, calling for better wages and conditions, ongoing benefits, and more full-time work.
They are homecare workers, employed by The Neighbourhood Group (TNG), in its “In-Home Services” department. They provide assistance with activities of daily living, cooking and some housework for seniors and those living with a disability throughout Toronto. Their care is apportioned through provincial agencies such as the Local Health Initiatives Network (LHIN – formerly Community Care Access Centre - CCAC). Families, often low-income, must fight the LHINs for every hour of care they can get for their loved ones. 
Homecare workers work in small apartments, where there is often very little ventilation, and protection from Covid. Local 7797 has had to demand that the employer provide adequate access to PPE for its members, and emphasized the right to refuse work in unsafe conditions, reporting this immediately to the employer. The vast majority of PSWs are racialized workers, most often women. For most, who are not full-time, they must wait by the phone for the call to go to work. They receive higher rates for direct care, but not for the travel they must do between their many clients, leaving them with poverty wages, and built in precarity.
According to Charmaine Kelegan, a long-time PSW at TNG, and Membership Officer on the Local 7797 Executive: “Workers are not respected. This is a precarious job. We need full-time hours for homecare PSWs”. Regarding the conditions workers face, she says “We face people with mental health issues, we face racism (from clients). There is a lack of interest workers’ health and safety”.
PSWs in homecare have received pandemic pay, but this will come to an end in June. The average wage rate is $17.30/hour (in the unionized sector!), compared to $22.69 in the Long Term Care sector. Local 7797 is demanding that the pandemic pay is made permanent, to bring baseline pay to $25/hour for these frontline ‘heroes’ in homecare.
Xolisiwe (Connie) Ndlovu, President of Local 7797, and a PSW herself, sums up the workers’ demands:    “Permanent Pandemic Pay and Decent Work, full-time work with benefits, full paid sick time, and equal pay for travel time and hands-on care”.
Many have accused the Ford government of “eldercide” during the Covid pandemic, regarding their treatment of seniors in Long Term Care. This is also true of homecare. The seniors that members of Local 7797 care for are themselves former workers, no longer productive in the eyes of the employing class, condemned to what have become death traps. A similar fate awaits those who care for them – unless we fight!
Peter Votsch
CUPE Local 7797 

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