Albertans working with people with disabilities have not seen a wage increase in eight years and the Alberta Disability Workers’ Association is calling for a 25 per cent increase in provincial funding for wages.
Shauna Pilipchuk, association board president, said in some cases workers are earning less money than their clients who work minimum wage jobs and receive government assistance.
“We heard this summer that the vacancy rates are probably the highest in the history of community services. It’s in crisis because of the lack of ability to attract people to these positions after someone has left,” Pilipchuk said.
“Especially with the cost of living going up, their income every month is less and less and (workers) are having to make those tough decisions.”
The association says retention and recruitment of community disability services workers has been difficult for years, and every region of the province is struggling because of the inability to raise wages.
“Literally people will laugh in the interview because the wages are so low,” said Denise Young, an association member about the current wages that average $18.76 an hour.
She said many workers don’t have benefits or pensions and face increased costs to maintain a vehicle to transport their clients and cellphones necessary for the job.
“People are passionate about this work. They love the work and they love the people they support, but they can no longer afford to continue to do it.”
And their clients can’t lose those services, she said.
“People rely on services for day-to-day activities, and to be members of their community. People need those supports,” Young said.
In addition to an immediate funding increase for wages and more operational funding for agencies that employ the workers, the association is calling on the province to create a long-term plan to provide predictable and sustainable funding.
“We need to ensure that everyone is going to be paid properly for the skills and the experience and the education they bring. It’s a workforce-wide problem. It’s the whole sector of our entire workforce in community disability services,” said association board member Paige Sauter.
Red Deer parent Lily Breland, who has two adults sons with severe disabilities, said workers who help her sons have more than one job in the sector because they don’t make a livable wage.
“They can work almost anywhere else and make more money,” Breland said.
She said government funding cutbacks in recent years to the arts centre The Hub on Ross and dental clinics for the disabled have left her wondering if more programming cuts are on the way.
“They put it down to inclusion, and that’s not true for a minute. It’s assimilation and it’s nothing more than that. They want to back out of their responsibilities, except in dire cases, to cut back on any kind of funding,” Breland said.
Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan said Alberta’s government values the dedication disability services workers show in caring for the most vulnerable Albertans.
“I appreciate this has been a trying and exhausting time for workers. That’s why last year we expanded the Critical Worker Benefit and provided $16 million to over 13,000 workers,” said Luan in a statement.
“Alberta’s government will continue working with the disability services sector as we provided a grant to the Alberta Council for Disability Services to develop a recruitment and retention strategy,” said Luan who met with the council in August.
He said the previous NDP government did not offer disability services workers a raise during its four years in office, and Alberta’s average hourly wage of $18.76 is higher than Newfoundland ($17.32), Saskatchewan ($17), and Manitoba ($15.11).