No One Wants A Failing Outcome

To the Editor;
To help agencies "with recruitment and retention", the Alberta Government announced $1500 lump-sumpayments to workers in 500 agencies.
Anyone who works in the disability services field can tell you that the major issue in the sector is low staff wages. We have wages so low that it is increasingly difficult to attraction and retain frontline staff. Low wages are also the primary reason student enrolments in disability services programs have plummeted. Who will take a two-year full-time program to start a job at $13 per hour? Low wages are having such a negative impact that client care is affected due to staff shortages in the non-governmental agencies.
Government has recognized the value of a disability worker through the wages and benefits they provide their own staff. It is essential that the wage gap between government and non-government workers (approximately 40 per cent and rising) be closed!
While we appreciate the one-time money, it does nothing to address the recruitment and retention of staff, in other words, something is better than nothing, but something still must be done to address the real issues. A knee jerk reaction (one time bonuses) to agency distress is not the answer to this essential program. The government has to be more responsive and it is unacceptable that:
- The Persons with Development Disabilities (PDD) found the money in their system to cover the unfunded portion of their pensions. But no money for contract staff wages.
- PDD found the money for three per cent of their own staff for the last three years, plus $1,700 this month for their staff as a one-time bonus, and four per cent for their staff for 2012. They can find the money for these things but not for ongoing wages for contract agency employees.
- There are several "projects" like SIS and the outcomes initiative that seem to find funding. Soon there will be no staff to deliver their programs to people in communities.
Government has a duty to care for the most vulnerable in our society and to meet that responsibility it needs a stable, educated and trained, capable, long-term workforce of sufficient numbers to fulfill client service needs. This is not the case at present and the entire system is in jeopardy.
The first step to resolving this crisis is to close the wage gap. Contracting practices need to include wage grids that are funded in a fair, equitable and consistent manner across the province. Wages paid to contract staff have to be competitive in the economy, especially as Alberta's economy heats up over the next several years. There has to be the financial incentive for young people to pursue a desirable career in the disability services field.
Failure to act will result in a failing sector with negative consequences for those vulnerable people the sector is supposed to serve. No one wants a failing outcome.
Colin Reichle
Executive Director
Alberta Disability
Workers Association