More than a month since a wage-top up for front-line health care aides in Alberta long-term care homes was announced, the union representing long-term care workers there says many on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic still have not received the promised pay increase.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the $2 per hour pay increase for health-care aides working at private long-term care homes April 19. The proposed spending amounted to $7.3 million a month.
“We are confident that these measures will make a difference to ensure our continuing care facilities in Alberta are as safe as possible,” Shandro said during the funding announcement.
The goal was to provide better pay stability for workers and contain the risk of contagion by ensuring they can work at a single site, rather than multiple facilities.
However, the funding has been marred in controversy and delay since its announcement. A CBC report last week detailed confusion for operators about how the funding would be administered and distributed to workers.
And on Friday, Susan Slade, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), which represents over 4,000 health-care aides working in continuing care who were set to receive the wage top-up, said that multiple private continuing care centres have not provided the wage top-up to health-care aides despite supposedly receiving the money last week.
“For extended care workers paid on May 20, the $2 raise wasn’t on there,” Slade told HuffPost Canada.
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In an emailed statement to HuffPost Canada Friday, Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said the money was distributed to facility operators on May 8, but it may take time for some operators to get the money — which will be paid retroactive to April 20 — to workers.
“They will pay the top-up to their staff according to their regular pay schedules,” Buick said. “We expect many will pay it next week, others like Bethany Care for example in mid-June, or some time in between, depending on the operator.”
But Slade said the government needs to hold companies accountable for ensuring the money gets to workers.
“It’s fine to say ‘oh we’ve given them money,’ but there’s no accountability to show where that money is, where that money has been given,” she said.
Buick said the government will monitor “compliance” from operators.
Other provinces already did it
Alberta’s move to top-up wages for long-term care workers followed similar boosts in other provinces including B.C. and Ontario.
Earlier this week, the B.C. government announced an additional temporary $4 per hour top-up for more than 250,000 eligible workers who provide front-line, in-person services in hospitals, jails, long-term and assisted-living facilities. The B.C. payment is backdated 16 weeks to March 15.
B.C. previously took on the role of employer for all long-term care facilities in the province at the beginning of April. All workers were hired full-time and converted to standardized wages for six months in accordance with union contracts. This resulted in nearly a $7 per hour pay increase for many workers in private and subcontracted care facilities.
Slade said that, considering how other provinces have responded, it’s “unacceptable” that Alberta workers haven’t received their top-up yet.
“The people that are working in these long-term care facilities are at the forefront of all this and it’s upsetting when the government comes out and says ‘oh we’re gonna do this,’ and then, really, like, a month later they’re not doing it yet,” she said.
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The Canadian Union Of Provincial Employees (CUPE) Alberta branch released a statement Thursday condemning the government for the bumpy roll-out of the wage top-up.
“The government is either lying or misinformed about wage top-ups. They will not be delivered [this week] as promised,” CUPE Alberta president Rory Gil said.
On May 8, an Alberta Health Services spokesperson confirmed that the money was flowing from AHS to operators, but did not indicate why it took so long past the announcement.
Long-term care homes have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, accounting for the vast majority of deaths in Canada. Nearly two-thirds of Alberta’s reported deaths have occured in long-term care homes.
Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had reached an agreement with the provinces regarding pay increases in health care and long-term care, and is budgeting up to $3 billion to be doled out across the country to provide pay increases to essential workers.
Trudeau said the feds will contribute three quarters of the top-up, with the provinces and territories covering the other 25 per cent. It will be up to the provinces to determine which workers are eligible.
“Premiers from across the country all agree that we need to support our essential workers,” Trudeau said Thursday. “We’re relying on these workers now, more than ever, and we will be there to support them.”
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