LETTER: Legislation not sustainable
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The last several years since early 2017 have been marred by what is known as Bill 28, the Public Services Sustainability Act. The truth is this bill is anything but sustainable. Bill 28, Section 12.1a-d, clearly states that the first two years leave no room for any increase in pay, with a 0.75 per cent increase in the third year, and a one per cent increase in the fourth year.
Bill 28 has been known as the Public Sector Wage Freeze bill, leaving no room for bargaining at the time. Since then, it has been nothing but back and forth between public sector entities and the provincial government on whether public-sector employees deserve access to bargaining collectively for a fair and new contract, including an increase in wages and better benefits.
While it has been found that Bill 28 is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms during this time period, the damage Bill 28 has inflicted has been catastrophic. As it stands now, many workers within the public sector have left their positions or taken an extended leave of absence, including those who work directly in the government of Manitoba.
As someone who has worked with the vulnerable population for nearly a decade in various organizations, what has happened with Bill 28 is not only obviously grotesque toward the workers but toward the families who need the extra helping hand when looking after a vulnerable child or vulnerable adult. The vulnerable population includes a spectrum of those part of the autism communities, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, Down syndrome, nonverbal, deaf, hard of hearing, those who are wheelchair-bound and many more.
As I write this, it needs to be clear that the families and children who find themselves with such diagnoses are not at fault and deserve every bit of support that they need and want for their children and adult children.
Depending on the organization’s requirements for the direct support provider and respite care positions, it is fitting for the worker to have an education that encourages an understanding of the neurodiverse mind as well as experience in working with the population at hand. It is a specialized position that has been taken for granted by those in charge of creating legislation who have proven time and time again that they prefer to ignore and isolate the needs of this population rather than embrace them and lead them to success.
Slowly but surely, many workers have been leaving their positions or taking an extended leave of absence due to burnout and compassion fatigue from a lack of support from those in the higher ranks and the stress from vicarious trauma. This has led to short staffing in many organizations, leaving families scrambling for care for their vulnerable family members.
Time and time again I have heard this saying: “If you don’t take care of yourself, who will take care of these children?”
Direct support providers would love more than anything to avoid burnout. However, as it stands now in our current contract from March 2017 (MGEU, Area 3, Local 253), we are granted sick leave without pay. We are granted four per cent of wages toward vacation pay, but most if not all of that will go toward bills or food. We are granted three consecutive days without pay to mourn the loss of a loved one. And depending on which organization you work for, you may not be compensated for cancelled shifts (apart from mileage driven and if it is rural based).
As it stands now in union talks (specifically MGEU) for this position, wages will be increased around 2.6 per cent (starting at $19 an hour). This is the case for everywhere in Manitoba, except for the Brandon region. Why is this the case? It is due to the continuation of the self-management push from the government, as in families will pay out of pocket for care and wait for reimbursement from the government.
But here is the problem: many families do not have the ability to pay out of pocket in the moment payment is required or keep track of paperwork allotted by the government. If you live rurally, then access to care is limited. How can we take care of ourselves when the government has refused to take care of us, the direct support provider?
And if they continue to refuse to take care of us, they are boldly stating that they refuse to take care of families in need.