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Northwood home support staff ready to strike if that is what it takes

"We love our job, we all have the same skills, we should be paid the same wages"

by Robert Devet

Some 1600 home support workers province-wide will soon be in a legal strike position.  They are looking for wage parity with their hospital counterparts. Photo Robert Devet
Some 1600 home support workers province-wide will soon be in a legal strike position. They are looking for wage parity with their hospital counterparts. Photo Robert Devet
NSGEU President Joan Jessome says that wage parity alone will not eliminate the gap between hospital workers and home support workers.  But it is a start.  Photo Robert Devet
NSGEU President Joan Jessome says that wage parity alone will not eliminate the gap between hospital workers and home support workers. But it is a start. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) -  Home support staff at Northwood in the Halifax Regional Municipality want to earn the same hourly wage as their counterparts who work in a hospital setting.

A picket at the Northwood head office in Burnside drove home the message that the 420 workers will go on strike to get wage parity, if that is what it takes. 

The workers, members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) Local 34, will be in a legal strike position on February 28th. 

"A Continuing Care Assistant in a hospital makes two dollars and some odd cents more per hour than we do," says Kim Matheson, one of the fifty or so workers and supporters who attended the rally. "We have the same training, the same qualifications. But we have to do a lot of additional tasks that hospital workers don't."

Home support staff visit patients at their homes, assist with personal care, provide nursing care, do light housekeeping, and much more.

"We try to make life easier for people who are at home and their familes, and we try to be supportive and give them dignity," says Matheson. "And almost all of us out here, we love our job. Otherwise we wouldn't be doing it, because it isn't an easy job."

The Northwood workers are not the only ones looking for parity with their hospital counterparts.

In total 1600 home support workers belonging to 14 locals province-wide have voted in favour of strike action. Approximately 675 staff who work for the VON in rural Nova Scotia will be in a legal strike position on March 5th, the other locals will follow.

Joan Jessome, President of the NSGEU, thinks that wage parity alone will not eliminate the differences between hospital workers and home support workers. But it is a start.

"Home support workers have to be available for two additional [unpaid] hours per day, and that's for Northwood and the VON. Elsewhere [in Nova Scotia] workers may have to be available as much as sixteen hours a day, and still only get five hours of work," says Jessome.

A lack of guaranteed hours, no Long Term Disability or dental coverage, the risks inherent to working alone and the need to travel long distances through all kinds of weather make the working lives of home support workers more challenging altogether.

"There are still quite a lot of staff who put in ten hours but are only getting paid for eight hours' wages," Matheson explains.

"The extra two hours is donated time. Sometimes we are scheduled from say eight to eleven in the morning, and then our next client may not be until one in the afternoon. All that time we have to be available."

Wage parity remains the current focus.

"Home support workers have to work 130 more hours per year [than hospital workers] to end up with the same salary." says Jessome.

"This has to be fixed, and we're not giving up until it is." 

The Bargaining Committee for Local 34 is heading back to the table Thursday February 20th.

 

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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