The president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union is hopeful, but not optimistic, that a strike by home support workers employed by the Victorian Order of Nurses across Nova Scotia can be averted by a March 5 deadline.
Joan Jessome said even if the “major” wage parity issue is solved, there are still many other stumbling blocks to getting a settlement in place. VON continuing-care workers providing home care make $16.47 an hour, compared to their hospital counterparts, who earn $18.83.
Two hundred and forty homecare workers employed with the Kings-Annapolis branch of the VON will be affected if a strike is called. The Valley Local 41 voted y a 97 per cent margin to reject their employer’s last offer during a vote held Feb. 11. Jessome said the Valley results mirror those in other areas of the province.
“The members are sending a strong message to the employer that it is time they had parity with other workers who do the same job and share the same qualifications but work in a hospital setting,” said Jessome.
“Home care workers are ready to dig in their heels in and ready to do what they have to do,” said Jessome, adding the bargaining unit and employer are awaiting a report from a conciliator that is due to be released Feb. 17 and could trigger a strike position 14 days after.
Other issues of contention include hours of work, isolation and working in uncontrolled environments, but the main one is wage parity.
“They are earning more (in hospitals) than their counterparts in home care and that has got to change. The government can no longer pay community care less than acute care,” Jessome said.
If the VON strike goes ahead, 1,100 CCAs and home support workers across the province could be on the picket lines. The potential for this scenario will affect operations at acute care facilities in the province in the weeks before the March 5 strike deadline.
“Hospitals cannot release patients in areas where there is a countdown to a strike action. That will impact (hospital) release plans.”
Jessome fears if CCAs working in the home care sector are not awarded higher compensation and improvements in working conditions, fewer people will want to take on the work or new CCA graduates will only consider positions at hospitals and other acute care facilities.
“And the demand for home care services is only set to increase with our aging population,” she said.