Yes, Premier Legault. The way we treat our seniors is unacceptable, but it is not new.
Three years ago, the Teamsters Union and its members who work in longterm care centres, CHSLDs, private retirement homes and intermediate resources, began to reflect on the issues that threatened the health and safety of seniors and staff. We then identified three major issues that past governments – and yours – had to address.
Working conditions were the first thing we noticed. We are pleased that you finally recognized that the disparities between private and public wages are not acceptable. In fact, we had spoken to your government’s officials about a year or so ago about this and they did not act on it.
You have said publicly that the premium paid to employees during the pandemic would probably be maintained, but you know as well as I do that a significant wage catch-up between private and public employees is necessary. It is a matter of fairness and respect for these workers.
Secondly, the time workers spend with seniors is insufficient. When 20% to 50% of the staff on a single floor has been short every day for years, is it any surprise that quality of service is declining and that the lives of residents can be threatened in a crisis? When there is only one orderly for every 250 seniors in a private residence, should we be surprised that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an uncontrollable flow of people to and from these institutions?
Thirdly, the presence of agency workers (who are often better paid than our own members who do the same work) destabilizes seniors who are losing their cognitive autonomy and causes a great deal of insecurity in living environments that should normally be peaceful and stable. I remind you that these agency workers (and those who come from CLSCs and local clinics) are potential vectors of a disease that could be fatal for seniors. It therefore seems obvious to me that their presence in institutions must be limited to the strict minimum.
I would like to extend my sympathies to all the families who are mourning the loss of a parent at this time, but I am also obliged to say that if the three issues described above had been addressed – and resolved – in recent years, we would probably not be here today.
I encourage you to keep this in mind when you think about how to improve the private senior housing system. Building new facilities is one thing but putting in place a structure that values the work of the men and women who are courageously supporting our private senior housing network should be the top priority amongst this government’s priorities.
Let us treat our seniors and those who care for them in an acceptable manner. That is all we ask.