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Time for Alberta disability support workers to get a pay raise
“We're facing a staffing crisis right now that I haven't seen in the last 15 years of being in a sector."
Disability workers in Alberta, who haven’t had a wage increase in eight years, are underpaid, understaffed and overworked. An organization that represents these workers says change is long overdue.
“Workers are currently facing fatigue and tiredness. They're feeling undervalued and aren’t being recognized for the work that they do each and every day,” Dale Cena with Alberta Disability Awareness in Action (ADAIA), which represents 15,000 disability workers in the province, told The Orchard.
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Work doesn’t get more essential than what disability workers do to assist people with complex needs, providing each client with a “care plan” suited for their unique needs, Cena explained:
A lot of times it's more about therapeutic rapport, doing that counseling and therapy for the individual, taking that individual out to their day programs — any kind of activities or rehabilitation programs —and forming connections.
It's so important that we as support workers are able to take these individuals out so that they can build relationships within the community settings as well. We take folks to doctor's appointments, pretty much anything we can possibly do that the individual likes, that's what we're there for. We help with cooking, cleaning and changing.
We're their best friend.
With the close personal nature of this relationship, and the importance of establishing trust, having major staff turnover puts a strain on the lives of people with disabilities.
“They’re isolating in their bedrooms. They simply just don't trust who's coming in,” Cena, who’s worked in the industry for 15 years, explained. “It’s a revolving door.”
According to Cena, the turnover rate for disability support workers is 37%. “We're facing a staffing crisis right now that I haven't seen in the last 15 years of being in a sector,” he said.
There’s an immense amount of training that goes into being a disability support worker. You need to know how to do non-violent crisis intervention, medication dispensation, trauma-informed care, first aid, suicide prevention, among other skills.
Despite the essential nature of their work for people with disabilities, disability workers are seldom recognized as essential, which became increasingly apparent during the pandemic.
While paramedics and other health care workers were sent to the front of the queue for groceries in the early days of the pandemic, disability workers doing the essential work of shopping for their clients had to wait in line with the general public.
When the provincial government provided a one-time critical worker benefit of $1,200, ADAIA had to push the government to include them under its eligibility requirements, which the government ultimately did.
“We had to really fight for it,” Cena said. “And that's just a one-time thing. It doesn't address the whole structural issue.”
During the UCP leadership race, Cena was given a 10-minute meeting with then-candidate Danielle Smith.
ADAIA is circulating a petition calling on Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jeremy Nixon to increase disability support workers’ wages by 25% to make up for years of lost ground.
According to Cena, the average worker in the field makes $18.76 an hour, so the requested raise would amount to about $4.69 an hour. He said he’s cautiously optimistic that Nixon will heed their call.
While disability workers are funded by the Government of Alberta, the sector is not unionized, which Cena said might be one reason why they’re considered an afterthought.
Labour organizers who read this newsletter, take that as you will.
Federal inaction highlighted after alleged serial killer arrested for murders of four Indigenous women
The unfulfilled Calls to Justice from the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are being highlighted by Indigenous advocacy groups after four women in Winnipeg were killed by an alleged serial killer.
The inquiry’s report, which was released in 2019, declared the disproportionate disappearances and murders of Indigenous women a genocide.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has been tracking the federal government’s progress on the 231 Calls to Justice, giving the government a failing grade as recently as June.
NWAC president Carol McBride told Canada’s National Observer that municipal and provincial governments also shoulder some of the blame for not developing their own plans to implement the calls in the face of federal inaction.
“We have to work together to stop this genocide … enough is enough, we need to pull up our socks and start working together for the protection of our families,” she said.
Cora Morgan, the family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told CTV News the killings are a testament to the “vulnerability of our unsheltered women.”
"They feel their voices do not matter or their lives do not matter. Our women deserve more,” said Morgan.
On Dec. 1, Winnipeg police arrested 35-year-old Jeremy Skibicki for the alleged first-degree murders of Morgan Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, and an unidentified woman. None of their bodies have been found.
Skibicki was arrested in May for the alleged first-degree murder of Rebecca Contois, 24, whose remains were found in a garbage bin near an apartment building and a Winnipeg landfill.
Contois, Harris and Myran are Indigenous and it is believed the unidentified woman is too, but police declined to press hate crime charges, APTN News reported. Nor have they committed to searching for the missing bodies, which they suspect are at the Brady Road landfill.
Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said “for years, families have been asserting there are serial killers who are targeting Indigenous women.”
In the House of Commons, Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Leah Gazan, who is a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation, said:
Another three Indigenous women were murdered by an alleged serial killer in Winnipeg and police aren’t going to look for their remains, which they believe are in the Brady landfill. Imagine hearing that about your relative, Mr. Speaker. While the government stalls at providing resources, Indigenous women, girls and 2-Spirit [people] continue to be murdered, because we are a target, Mr. Speaker. Will the government provide immediate funding to stop this genocide and the resources to search for the remains of our precious sisters?
In response, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said it was “puzzling” why the police aren’t interested in searching the landfill, but didn’t commit to any concrete action.