The Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.
The day after a conference call where he heard directly from continuing care assistants (CCAs) across Nova Scotia, Premier Tim Houston announced a 23% wage increase for the sector.
The announcement was made during Wednesday’s provincial COVID-19 briefing. The increase takes effect Thursday and means the province’s CCAs will go from the lowest paid in Canada to the highest paid in Atlantic Canada.
In a media release, the Premier’s Office said the wage increase for unionized and non-unionized CCAs at all levels in the publicly funded sector will bring the top annual salary to $48,419.
For most full-time CCAs, that means an increase of about $9,000 a year. Those at the top of their pay scale will reach the top salary immediately.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Houston said what he heard from CCAs during Tuesday evening’s call had a “big influence” on the decision to immediately increase their wages.
The Halifax Examiner was provided with an audio recording of the first hour of the CCA conference call during which Houston was present. Barbara Adams, the Minister of Seniors and Long-Term Care, remained on the call after Houston left to attend to other business.
One particularly emotional exchange appeared to leave an impression on Houston, prompting him to say it “might be one of my lasting things from today.”
In that exchange, a CCA working in home care confirmed to the premier that a wage increase was definitely a top priority. She described CCAs as struggling to survive as the cost of essentials like food and fuel continue to skyrocket.
She said a certified CCA working for home support made $16.67 an hour in 2009. In 2022, that wage was $19.24 an hour.
“We are on the road pretty much all day. It’s not like we go to one place and stop and be there for eight to 12 hours,” the CCA said.
“Some girls start work at 7:30 in the morning and some of them don’t get home till 10, 10:30, 11 o’clock at night. We also do night shifts as well.”
She added that the gas mileage amount home care CCAs can claim hasn’t increased despite the high cost of fuel eating into their salaries. She also shared how one worker was being forced to sell her house.
“There are a lot of our home care workers that are single and that are single moms,” she said, pausing and choking on tears. “Tim, they’re struggling just to survive. A lot of them feel that there’s a government that is making them poor and homeless, and that really needs to change.”
Another CCA said their unusual work schedules meant some CCAs in the province are available for 12 to 14 hours a day for what sometimes amounts to just seven hours of pay.
At one point during the call, Louise Riley addressed Minister Adams. As a CCA and chairperson of the Canadian Union of Public Employees( CUPE) Nova Scotia’s long-term care committee, Riley stressed that in order to retain people in nursing homes, a wage adjustment and increases were required.
“People are leaving this sector…They are stressed out, they are burnt out, they’re exhausted, they’re not getting time off, they’re not getting vacations,” she said.
“They’re being mandated 12, 24, 36 hours, all the time.”
CUPE Nova Scotia president Nan McFadgen said she found out about the province’s wage increase “a hot minute” before it was announced.
“I’m really and truly happy for the CCAs. I think that this is a good start for CCAs and every other worker,” McFadgen said in an interview.
She said the increase means CCAs who previously earned between $18.93 and $20.19 per hour will now be making between $23.27 and $24.83 per hour. She said while it brings them closer to where they want to be, the union intends to continue bargaining.
In addition to wages, issues about workloads, scheduling, and ensuring a 4.1 ratio (4.1 hours of care per resident) instead of 2.45 hours were all raised during Tuesday’s call with CCAs.
At one point during that call, Adams said her department is already providing 4.1 funding to any facility that has enough staff to provide it.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t very many that are able to do that right now, but they are already able to do that,” Adams said in response to a question about implementing the 4.1 ratio.
Besides addressing other concerns expressed by CCAs during Tuesday’s call with Houston and Adams, McFadgen said those working in environmental, dietary, laundry, recreation, and maintenance also deserve wage increases.
McFadgen said there’s “still a lot of work to do” and they’re looking forward to bargaining for all long-term care workers who work with Nova Scotia’s seniors.
“This is a good start and we’re going to give credit where due,” McFadgen said.
“But we’re not done. If you want your loved ones being able to eat and have some clean laundry, we’re not done.”
According to the province, there are 6,700 publicly funded CCA positions in Nova Scotia, most in continuing care.
Groups with collective agreements that are already settled will be adjusted upward to the new wage levels announced on Wednesday. Those not yet settled will incorporate the new pay scales.
“Collective bargaining will continue, and CCAs will not have to wait until bargaining concludes to receive this increase,” noted the province’s news release. “Details and timing of implementation will be determined by individual employers working with unions.”
Subscribe to the Halifax Examiner
The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible.