If one asks an aging person where s/he would like to finish her days, she will inevitably answer “at home” with some exceptions naturally, such as sickness, difficulty in preparing meals or fear of staying alone, with little possibility of getting urgent help if needed.
Receiving help at home, however, be it a daily or regular visit, changes the game.
For some people, getting help for a few hours daily or weekly to help prepare meals, to shower and to do certain tasks makes all the difference. At the very least, a daily visit of an hour to make sure all is well, make a meal, to keep someone in their own home is enough for a period of time.
This type of service is available if one has the financial means or receives help from the government.
Unfortunately, the working conditions of home care workers are so abnormal that they defy comprehension. Until recently, home care workers were paid $9.50 per hour, and tops, $9.65 after ten or even twenty years in the field. The government, effective Oct. 1, 2011, raised the salary to $11 per hour but the workers are still working for this increase.
The working day of a home care worker consists of looking after three to five clients each day, which when one adds the travel time between clients, can add up to eight hours daily. However, the travel time is not included in the salary. Travel mileage between clients is 12 cents per hour. So, if an employee works 40 hours, she would receive 40 x 12 cents = $4.80, regardless of the number of kilometres she has travelled. And, travel allowances are not paid by all of the 50 agencies which exist in the province. Car insurance is paid by the home care worker.
Also, the days when a worker has only a client or two – for example, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon – she is paid only for the time necessary to service a client, thus losing any opportunity for other part-time work. She has the right to two weeks of paid vacation per year. There is no compensation if she works during that vacation to make both ends meet. Often, services are not offered on public holidays, constituting a loss of hours for the home care worker, since this time is not made up later.
No pension is offered by these agencies to their employees. Once retired, the employees often become dependent on the state, since their wages do not permit for much saving or retirement investment. The vast majority of these employees are women. One must be terribly devoted or a missionary to work under such conditions – or feel they have no choice!
Increasing the salary of home care workers is good but does not correct the pay inequity which has prevailed in this sector for many years. This work requires an evaluation of the position and level of responsibility to ensure that the work is paid for its proper value. The government has already done this work and knows full well the real wage which should be paid.
Any further delay in righting this inequity is unacceptable. This salary discrimination should no longer be tolerated.
Huberte Gautreau of Moncton is Francophone Vice-Chair of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity.