Wage suppression bill must be rolled back

This is an open letter to members of the Ontario legislature and the Hamilton public:

In 2019, the provincial government introduced wage-suppression legislation (Bill 124) which limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent over a three-year period. We, the board of directors of Mission Services of Hamilton, are seeing the negative impact of this legislation on our ability to reward, recognize and further incentivize our amazing community workers who support some of the most marginalized individuals and their families in our society. We also see a direct correlation between Bill 124 and our ability to retain employees, resulting on inadequate staffing at all of our sites.

Due to the pandemic, those who continue to work do so under extreme conditions. Our CEO, Carol Cowan-Morneau, informs the board: “The pressures that the pandemic have brought include increased workload for our staff through the changes to the operations of our facilities — screening of all persons in shelters, changes to how food is prepared and served; mandatory masking and PPE, screening of residents and promoting/arranging vaccinations, required testing and increased cleaning/disinfecting are all added stressors to our staff and residents.”

Our staff often works longer hours than is typical under conditions that include dealing with increased domestic and street violence, increased needs for shelter and food, as well as treating addiction and mental health issues exacerbated by the fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic. Our administrative team also works very long hours, often filling in for vacancies created by the reduction in staff — which we can directly attribute to this legislation. Experienced replacement staff is hard to find when wage suppression, at a time of increased costs to living, is a consideration in determining whether to take a position.

Our provincially funded programs are provided fixed amounts over time. This means Mission Services does not receive annual funding increases from the Ministry of Community and Social Services. In fact, the length of time since an increase from MCSS is long enough to no longer show in our records over the past decade. In addition to this is the challenge of not receiving increases from our typical ongoing funding from provincial and city sources. For example, our Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) has provided base funding but without an increase in 10 years. Hence, all financial support for increases to wages, cost of utilities, food, and the costs incurred for the myriad services our organization provides, has to be raised through donations. Those donations are received from public and private sources with gratitude so that we can continue to serve competently, with compassion. But, we believe that the base provincial funding we receive must keep pace with the cost of living.

We believe Bill 124 diminishes those charged with assisting and caring for the most marginalized in our society. Supporting and caring for these populations is a noble enterprise. However, community workers who provide these kinds of services are often the same ones who suffer insufficient wages, burnout and high staff turnover. We believe Bill 124 impedes progress toward improving the living conditions and mental health of the most marginalized in society by imposing a suppressed wage system that causes hardship and inadequate compensation for those important caregivers.

The board of Mission Services of Hamilton implores the members of provincial Parliament to heed the call of ours and many organizations for the expedient repealing and/or amendment of Bill 124. We humbly request that citizens of Hamilton join us in voicing concern about wage-suppression legislation by writing their local MPP.

Jerry Bulthuis is chair of the board of directors of Mission Services of Hamilton.

OP-ED published in The Hamilton Spectator February 16, 2022 as ‘Wage suppression bill must be rolled back

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