Fredericton – Workers, residential agencies and the NB Coalition for Pay Equity are asking the government to release the report on the pay equity results for the community residence sector before Christmas. The government initiated a pay equity program for this sector in 2009.
Community residences provide care and supervision to adults with disabilities in need of special assistance and to children and youth under government care. Residents may live with mental illnesses, or with mental and physical disabilities such as developmental delays, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, schizophrenia, autism and Down’s syndrome.
“This work is complex and demanding. But it pays so little that many of us hold two or even three jobs to make ends meet,” said Danielle Scott, herself a Community Residence Worker and spokesperson for CUPE’s New Brunswick Council of Group Home Unions, at a media conference organized by the NB Coalition for Pay Equity on Dec. 11 in Fredericton.
Scott said that regular employees can earn as little as $12.51/hour while casual and part time employees earn even less.
“Many of us obtained college degrees to do this work. As community residence workers, our responsibility is to care for residents who require 24 hour supervision in a group home setting and to foster their development whether they are children, youth or adults. We have to be attentive to their needs and ensure their safety,” explained Scott.
“On a daily basis, we first and foremost maintain structure within the home. We are also responsible for personal care routines (bathing, changing, lifts, transfers, feedings, etc.), cooking, cleaning, laundry, dispensing medications, documenting, outings. Through it all, we try to find the time to do things the residents enjoy such as card games, walks, movies, etc. We also have to be prepared to deal with difficult behaviours such as physical and verbal abuse when they occur,” elaborates Scott.
Giselle Pitts, mother of a 44 year old man who has cerebral palsy, appreciates the services provided by the community residence workers who take care of him.
“It is demanding work but it is so important to us. Everyone wants to feel confident that members of their families are well taken care of. The sad thing is that low wages lead to a high staff turnover. We can see that it affects the residents,” says Pitts.
Pitts reached out for community residence services for her son in 1993, four years after her husband died. Without her husband’s support, her son’s care had become too difficult for her. However, she remained involved in his life and sits on his residence board as well as on the Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s.
“Our employees deserve pay equity,” adds David Black, Past President of the NB Association of Residential Agencies and current Executive Director of Independence Plus in Saint John. “Our agencies provide important services to New Brunswick families. These services are funded by the government. However the level of funding we receive does not allow us to pay wages that adequately reflect the complexity of the work performed by our employees. As a result, we face staff recruitment issues and high turnover. It is not good for the people in our care, not good for our employees, and not good for the agencies.”
Workers from three other sectors participated in a pay equity program done by the government and received their reports in June 2012 (child care, home support and transition house workers). However, community residence workers are still waiting for their report. Yet, in May 2012, Margaret-Ann Blaney then Minister responsible for Women’s Issues said that the community residence results should be out “in plenty of time for any wage adjustments that may have to be made as of April 1 of the next fiscal year.” She was talking about April 1, 2013.
Vallie Stearns, Chair of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity, says her organization is completely behind the workers.
“We appreciate the government’s commitment to make payments retroactive to April 1, 2013. Yet this much delay is difficult to bear for the workers. They need to know what to expect in order to plan and make financial decisions for their future and their families. It is time for the government to release its report,” urged Stearns.
Johanne Perron is the Executive Director of the NB Coalition for Pay Equity.