New policy coalition network to improve PSWs’ working conditions

February 22, 2023

Personal support workers (PSWs) have come together to form a network advocating for better pay, job security, and workplace equity.

The Empower PSW Network launched today with a vision to steer our healthcare to a future where PSWs are prioritized and supported. The new network serves as a platform for PSWs to voice their stories to influence decisions and policies impacting their employment.

“There are some systemic barriers in our healthcare system around the Social Determinants of Health for PSWs… our main mission is driving systemic change that results in better work conditions for PSWs that ultimately means much better care and outcomes for patients, families and our healthcare sector,” said Debra Slater, coordinator of the network and a PSW for more than 15 years.

Created by PSWs for PSWs, the network advocates for fair compensation, more permanent full-time jobs with benefits, and empowerment of workers to prevent workplace discrimination. PSWs, community members and anyone interested in advocating for the workers are urged to join the movement.

The network was born out of a research project that revealed the precarious working conditions of PSWs in the Greater Toronto Area during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 600 PSWs completed surveys, and 31 of them participated in interviews. The findings showed that the pandemic took a toll on their mental health and well-being. Many of them are overworked, underpaid and faced discrimination in the workplace. Despite the policy changes during COVID, PSWs still experienced poor working conditions. One of the pressing issues was the lack of paid sick days. “My office didn’t send me anything and stuff like that. So, I had to go back. I was praying, yeah, imagine for two weeks you have $450 for two weeks,” said a Southeast Asian female working at a long-term care facility who participated in the study.

Even when faced with challenges, PSWs still showed resilience and dedication to their work. The strength, commitment and diversity of PSWs are fundamental to creating a thriving healthcare system that supports improved quality of life for Ontarians. PSWs are essential to ensure people receive care at home or in the community, yet most of the opportunities available for them are non-permanent, low-wage positions without benefits and paid sick days.

Establishing the Empower PSW Network is a significant first step to convince decision-makers to prioritize PSWs and improve their working conditions. “We heard from the general public, families, employers and our government that our hard work does not go unnoticed. Well, it’s time to show us how valuable our hard work means to our society,” Debra said.


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