Group home workers may see pay increase, pay equity advocates demand more

Written by Tracy Glynn on March 24, 2014

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Romana Sehic, a Fredericton-based group home worker, spoke about the need for pay equity for group home workers at Bread & Roses with the Alex Bailey Swing Band: an International Women’s Day Event, Workers Appreciation Night and Fundraiser for Pay Equity on March 13 at Connexion Arc in Fredericton. Photo by John (Albert) Martin.

Fredericton – The government of New Brunswick quietly released results of a long-awaited pay equity study for workers in group homes (also known as community residences) on March 19th. Adult caregivers in group homes who make an average $11.95/hour will have their pay adjusted to $14.80/hour within four years.

Danielle Scott, a Saint John-based group home worker, and pay equity advocates were among those gathered at the Women’s Equality Branch in downtown Fredericton to hear the New Brunswick government’s pay equity adjustments for group home workers.

Scott says,”I’m disappointed that the wage increases for group home workers are as low as they are. We are not really that much further ahead when you consider inflation and the cost of living. We could very well be making near the minimum wage in five years.”

The NB Coalition for Pay Equity, which has active committees in Fredericton, Moncton and Edmundston and volunteers across the province, is working towards adequate legislation for pay equity, which would guarantee equal pay for work that may be different but of the same value. “Right now, too many predominantly female jobs are underpaid,” says Johanne Perron, executive director of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity.

The pay adjustment amount, if any, a group home worker will receive depends on their current wage level, which may be higher or lower than the average hourly rate and/or “fair” hourly rate.

Norma Dubé, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Women’s Equality Branch, told those gathered at her office to hear the results that group home employers will be contacted immediately to get the salaries and hours worked for each of their workers. Pay equity adjustments will be spread out over four years in lump sum payments. The adjustments are retroactive to April 1, 2013. When workers will see the first pay equity instalment on their pay cheques or what portion of the adjustment will be given to them in the first year is not known.

Romana Sehic works at a group home in Fredericton that specializes in caring for men with traumatic brain injuries. She is also the President of the Council of Group Home Unions that represents a number of CUPE locals organized at group homes.

“We work with our hearts. Group home workers don’t make a great living. We work for just above the minimum wage. It is hard to demand fair wages because we are overworked and don’t have the time. We work a shift and then must go to another job. It’s a rude awakening when we find that we work for $10.50/hour and our client who we take care of makes $12/hour. How do you pay rent? How do you drive a car with our income?” said Sehic in an interview with CHSR’s From the Margins on March 4th. Sehic received training in human services at a community college to get her job.

Workers in four publicly-funded private sectors were evaluated for pay equity adjustments. Group home workers were the last group of workers to receive their results. Home support workers, transition home workers and child care workers got their results in June 2012 and pay equity adjustments were retroactive to April 1st, 2012.

“We had been told that the same methodology would be used for the group home sector as had been used for home support, child care and transition houses, so our expectations were not high,” says Wendy Johnston CUPE’s Equality Representative.

Female-dominated jobs are compared with male-dominated jobs in terms of skill, effort, responsibilities and working conditions in order to determine pay equity for workers. Several flaws in the government’s methodology to determine fair wages for workers in these job sectors concern Johnston.

“Alarm bells went off when the government released the results for transition house, home support and child care workers in June 2012. The ‘fair’ wage rates calculated for the eight female-dominated jobs ranged from just $12.52 to $14.17 per hour. Anyone earning more than $14.17 an hour was considered to be already paid fairly! Clearly something was wrong with the process. Pay equity advocates got down to work to find out what had happened,” says Johnston.

“We are pleased to see that the government took into account some of the pay equity coalition’s comments and determined the 2013 group home workers wages based on 2012 wages for male comparators. That gave visibly better results than what was determined for child care, home support and transition house workers whose 2012 wages were based on 2010 male jobs wages,” says Perron.

Group home workers’ wages were compared to male comparators’ wages set in 2012; $13.24 for non-unionized maintenance workers and $16.55 for foremen. Child care, home support and transition house workers “fair wage” was based on lower 2010 hourly wages; $11.86 for maintenance workers and $14.83 for foremen.

New Brunswick’s home support workers in 2011 were making an average wage of $11/hour. The “fair wage,” according to the New Brunswick government after they conducted a pay equity study of this workforce, is $13.15/hour. In 2011, crisis interveners at transition homes were making an average wage of $13.37/hour. The government of New Brunswick claims that they deserve a 3 cents/hour wage increase to $13.40/hour. Support workers in child care were making an average wage of $10/hour in 2011 and after the pay equity exercise were deemed eligible for an increase to $12.52/hour.

“There are other issues with the methodology that must be resolved so that the province can progress towards pay equity for workers in other government-mandated services, such as special care homes and ADAPT centres, and revisit the programs done with the four groups. Every worker in predominantly female job deserves pay equity and nothing less,” says Perron.

Workers in these care sectors traditionally dominated by women and more women in New Brunswick are working more than one job to make ends meet. In 2013, 6.5% of women and 4.4% of men in New Brunswick had two or more jobs, according to Statistics Canada figures.

Pay equity legislation adopted in 2009 covers New Brunswick public sector employees in the civil service, hospitals, school districts and Crown Corporations. However, there is no pay equity legislation for the private sector, where 65 % of women in the labour market in New Brunswick work. The private sector includes businesses and factories as well as sectors that offer government-mandated services, universities and municipalities.

The Group Home Unions Executive and CUPE staff plan to meet with the Women’s Equality Branch soon to to discuss how pay equity adjustments will be paid out. In the meantime, they want to let group home workers know the results as the Minister Responsible for Women’s Equality will not be putting out a media release. The report with the results and the explanation of the process is posted on the department’s website under Community Residence Sector.

“If you know of anyone who worked at group homes during the period since April 1, 2013, but who have left the field, tell them that they may be eligible for retroactive pay equity adjustments,” says Johnston.

Group home workers are encouraged to call the Women’s Equality Branch toll-free phone line, 1-877-253-0266, to ask questions and find out when they will see pay equity adjustments on their pay cheques.

Tracy Glynn is the chair of the Fredericton Committee of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity.

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