By Zaid Noorsumar
Part 4 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA
Most Personal Support Workers I have spoken with support the demand for self-regulation. The consensus is that a regulatory body would standardize educational requirements, establish benchmarks, and hold workers to account when they make mistakes.
The Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA) has been the main advocacy group championing self-regulation. For the past decade, the OPSWA has focused on self-regulation as the ultimate weapon in achieving the respect and rights PSWs deserve.
Self-regulation may be beneficial for PSWs, but it depends greatly on how it is structured. A regulatory body’s job is to protect the public, so it also plays a disciplinary role for workers. In my conversations with PSWs, they feel that would be a good thing as “bad apples” can be taken out of the system.
However, without addressing underfunding, understaffing, poor wages and working conditions in long-term care and home care, is self-regulation really a victory for PSWs?
Self-regulation alone is not enough
If you ask OPSWA president Miranda Ferrier, you will hear that self-regulation improves wages and working conditions.
While self-regulation may give PSWs a measure of respect in the workplace, it won’t take care of all the problems caused by underfunding, understaffing and corporatization of the care sector.
Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, is a fierce advocate for better working conditions in the health care sector. She is skeptical of the types of promises OPSWA is making and of the supposed benefits of self-regulation.
“These are very low paid women. How much is it going to cost them to pay for this regulatory body? And will it actually provide anything better for them than they have right now? That is a big question,” says Mehra.
OPSWA turns to the Ontario PCs
The Ontario Liberals and Ontario Progressive Conservatives receive substantial support from the home care and long-term care corporations who have fought to keep wages down and lobbied against the interests of workers and care recipients. When I tracked political donations in the care sector, over 95 per cent of corporate money went to the Ontario PCs and Ontario Liberals. The Ontario NDP receives the small remainder.
It appears that Miranda Ferrier doesn’t have a strong political ideology. She just wants self-regulation, whether it comes through Liberals, Ontario PC or the NDP. And that might seem reasonable – who cares which party gives you what you want, long as you achieve your goals, right? Based on my conversation with her, that is Ferrier’s point of view.
Ferrier tried to work with the Ontario Liberals but they didn’t give her the authority to self-regulate. In response, she allied with the Ontario PCs and was rewarded by its former leader, Patrick Brown. In his 2017 election platform, Brown promised OPSWA the authority to regulate PSWs.
Even after Brown was brought down by scandal and replaced by Doug Ford, Ferrier maintained her relationship with the Ontario PCs, especially after they were elected to office.
Since the election, the OPSWA has not crossed the Ontario PC government, even during the pandemic catastrophe in long-term care. Instead, Ferrier has often thanked Merrilee Fullerton, the long-term care minister, and Premier Doug Ford for recognizing the value of PSWs.
Meanwhile, Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition, says that the government has done nothing for PSWs aside from a temporary pay enhancement.
“How can a PSW association sing praises of a government that has done nothing to provide full time jobs to deal with the staffing crisis?” asks Mehra. “The government’s [done nothing] to deal with safety issues, [done nothing] to deal with very low quality of management in long-term care and in home care.”
I noticed that OPSWA never once fought for PPE for PSWs. It was always the SEIU that was fighting. Why is that? My feeling is that they want to get self-regulation. So they’re not trying to get into any disputes with the Conservative government. So that’s a conflict of interest in a sense, because they’re not willing to fight for us PSWs. Because they want to be on good terms with the PC government.– Lindsay Couture, PSW and former member of OPSWA’s president’s council
Does the Ford government care about PSWs?
If Ford and Fullerton value PSWs, their policies show the opposite. Prior to the pandemic, the PC government cut long-term care funding, and introduced wage caps for non-profit healthcare staff and workers across the public sector. Cuts were also made to public health funding, social assistance, and the province’s dementia and autism strategies.
The Ford government has maintained close ties to the for-profit home care and long-term care corporations and other business lobby groups. The result has been tax cuts for corporations, expanded for-profit child care, freezing the minimum wage and rolling back labour law reforms that allowed home care workers a better chance at forming unions. Last summer, in the midst of the pandemic, the government further privatized home care in legislation that was supported by OPSWA!
If the Ontario PCs are “Open for Business” and closed to workers, what exactly would PSW self-regulation look like? If healthcare funding and staffing levels are not improved in home care and long-term care, there’s a real danger that PSW self-regulation will simply place more responsibility on workers, and not the system.
For instance, PSWs in long-term care know that staffing ratios are critical. One PSW to 12 or 15 residents makes it impossible to provide good care. It’s a recipe for disaster.
So to regulate workers in an underfunded system will just mean more strain on them, because now not only are they responsible for care, they have additional pressure not to lose their license. On the other hand, OPSWA partners such as CarePartners, Extendicare, and Chartwell continue to go about profiting in an underfunded system through union-busting and other cost-containing measures.
This article is Part 4 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA