Op-ed: Crisis in the community care sector: Who will take care of you and your loved ones?

The community care sector in New Brunswick is in crisis, and the provincial government must invest more in this sector in its next budget.

The 12,000 workers in the community care sector earn, on average, $12 to $15 an hour, often without benefits or pension plans. The wages in this sector are among the lowest in the country. For example, a home support worker in New Brunswick earns roughly $13.45 an hour, compared to $17.62 in Nova Scotia, $15.05 in Ontario and between $17 and $20 in Manitoba.

These individuals, who are mostly women, work in home support services, community residences, special care homes, family services and ADAPT agencies. These services are, to various degrees, financed and regulated by the provincial government, and they all play an essential role in our province.

Workers in the community care sector generally have some post-secondary training. They provide professional and personal care, health care, protection and social interactions to seniors and persons with disabilities. Working conditions in this sector also require a great deal of physical and mental effort.

One study showed that an equitable salary in 2012 would have been $20 an hour, based on the skills, responsibilities, effort and working conditions involved. It is clear that this predominantly female work is undervalued. As a point of comparison, the average hourly wage for truck drivers in New Brunswick is $19.47 an hour.

The situation is so serious that workers in the community care sector live in poverty, and often have to work two or three jobs to meet their basic needs. This situation makes it more difficult to recruit and retain employees in the sector. The shortage of employees has an undeniable effect on the quality and the continuity of services received by seniors and the disabled.

The next provincial budget must prioritize investment in the salaries of workers in the community care sector to ensure that the required standard of care will be available to all New Brunswickers who need it. This investment is not only essential in order to provide services, but also to lift these workers out of poverty, establish stability in the sector, grow the local economy and improve the quality of services offered.

Our elderly and disabled deserve high-quality services when they need them. The workers who provide these services deserve an equitable salary so they can have an acceptable standard of living.

Talk about pay equity to your MLAs and demand investment in salaries in the community care sector in the next budget. It`s time to take action! 

Frances LeBlanc 
Chair of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity

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