Across Ontario, one of the main challenges faced by personal support workers is the fact that, even though there are numerous part-time PSW jobs available, full-time work is not as common in this field. In fact, according to the most recent long-term care staffing study done by the Ministry of Long-Term Care (July 2020), only 41% of the overall PSW population in the province works full-time, while 48% have part-time PSW jobs and the remaining 10.7% are considered casual workers.
The same study points out that PSWs are the largest population of employees in Ontario’s long-term care sector, with a 58% presence, and approximately half of them would like to work more hours. Because of this, many PSWs are known to keep multiple jobs “to barely make a living,” as explained by Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU Healthcare).
This multi-job scenario, plus the onset of the pandemic back in March 2020, caused people to grow concerned about PSWs, and caregivers in general, putting themselves and others at risk by having contact with residents and staff from different nursing homes at once. To alleviate the situation, and protect the elderly, in April 2020 the government of Ontario announced measures to limiting retirement home’s caregivers from working on multiple facilities, giving them the alternative of choosing one employer and taking job-protected leaves of absence from others to comply with the policies. The province also recommended long-term-care employers offer full-time hours to part-time workers, as a way of keeping them from having multiple jobs.
In light of this complex reality, and to help you better understand why there are so many part-time PSW jobs, as casual PSW jobs, but so little full-time work, let’s discuss two critical contributing factors:
First, there is the expansion of for-profit care homes, which has deeply impacted working conditions for caregivers, especially in terms of pay. According to sociology professor Pat Armstrong, who teaches at York University in Toronto, this situation has led to high turnover in the field, and the constant need for a contingent workforce to plug the gaps.
In a report written for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Armstrong concludes that nursing homes in Canada with managerial practices taken from the business sector are designed for “just enough labour and for making a profit, rather than for providing good care”. Some of the practices referred to by the report include paying the lowest wages possible and hiring part-time PSWs, as well as casual and self-employed caregivers, in order to avoid paying benefits or providing other protections.
And secondly, there’s the prominence of staffing agencies. Since many caregiving centers like retirement homes have such a tight number of full-time workers for each shift, they are not able to operate appropriately if even one of them calls in sick. This is the reason why most of these facilities are constantly working short on staff and rely on the support of staffing agencies to get by.
Agencies, on the other hand, employ temporary workers that usually get paid higher than the actual staff in the multiple locations where they are sent to. Their service offers a quick solution to staff shortages in long-term care centers, effectively discouraging these organizations from changing their approach towards their workers and increasing full-time contracts.
According to the Ministry of Long-Term Care, as long as long-term care facilities keep offering only casual or part-time PSW jobs, caregivers will have to continue working multiple part-time jobs in order to achieve a living wage, and because of this, these workers will continue to face challenges like scheduling conflicts and insufficient downtime.
“Poor working conditions are a key contributing factor to staff dissatisfaction, turnover, and the overall poor perception of long-term care as a career choice. Staff report feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, and unrecognized. The sector will likely continue to struggle with shortages should conditions not improve,” says the ministry’s aforementioned long-term care staffing study.
Furthermore, the study concludes that “increasing the proportion of full-time, permanent positions would improve working conditions for staff and reduce the likelihood of spreading viruses, such as COVID-19, between homes.”
Are you a personal support worker? Do you have a casual or part-time PSW job? What do you think about this complex and controversial topic? Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter.
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