The New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity is denouncing the New Brunswick government’s refusal to claim over $59 million in federal funds intended to fight COVID-19.
The Coalition advocates for caregivers, who are mostly women, and are paid less because of their gender. The Coalition and unions in New Brunswick such as CUPE NB have asked the Higgs government to increase the pay and provide better working conditions for caregivers, especially during the pandemic. Higgs so far has refused.
Before the pandemic hit, the Higgs government prevented the province’s 4,100 nursing home workers from accessing binding arbitration in their labour dispute, citing its lack of resources to pay wage increases.
During the dispute, Higgs told nursing home workers that “if you want that kind of wage, then Alberta’s where to get it.”
The latest study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), however, reveals that the province has not accessed $30 million for Essential Workers Wage Top-up, nor $19.7 million for its Safe Long-term Care Fund, meant to cover additional long-term care expenses.
The top ups were intended to insure that provinces could retain long-term care workers, given the increased pressures on their job due to the pandemic. New Brunswick entered the pandemic with a chronic shortage of available nurses in long-term care facilities.
To save money, the Higgs government also allowed five private special care homes in the north of the province to cut staff levels. The results were malnourished and dehydrated residents, according to a report by the CBC.
“Workers are under increased stress and struggling to keep themselves and the residents safe. Yet, they remain underpaid,” said Frances LeBlanc, the Coalition Chair. “It is time to be fair and show compassion to all these workers who are providing services to seniors, people with physical and mental disabilities or mental illnesses, women fleeing domestic violence and children.”
The Coalition hailed the government’s decision last May to grant a monthly supplement of $500 for four months to front-line workers in the caregiving sector earning less than $18 and hour. Because it was temporary, this recognition, which ended in July, is not beneficial to caregivers who are facing a surge of outbreaks in long-term care facilities since the beginning of the second wave.
“The caregiving workforce is under unprecedented strain and is facing higher risks while still earning low wages. They cannot live on recognition alone. The value of their work should be reflected in their paycheck,” adds LeBlanc.
The sector, which was in crisis long before the pandemic is facing challenges in recruitment and retention of caregivers given their low wages and poor working conditions, such as little to no paid sick days. Most caregivers currently earn between $14 and $16 per hour. Their wages do not reflect the responsibilities, skills, effort and working conditions required for their work.
“We call on the government to provide the necessary 25 per cent in funding to match federal money, and provide additional wage top-ups for the entire caregiving sector. Moreover, we will be watching the next provincial budget closely for key investments in caregiving. The government has an opportunity to steer its agenda to support the care economy, not only during the pandemic but in the long term,” concludes LeBlanc.
With files from Matthew Hayes.
Rachel Richard is the public engagement officer with the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity.