by Tina Ouellette
“Every day I get way more given to me than I get back. A great career choice found me.” The words of a devoted local developmental service worker Rose Riddell. Rose agreed to come back to work after her recent retirement to help through the peak struggles of the pandemic. Dedicated and compassionate front line support workers like Rose would never expect an honourable mention, but they earned one!
Across the province there are approximately 65,000 people who have intellectual disabilities, most of whom require some form of outside support. Many DSWs found a second family in this field. Our hope is that with some real action and attention from the province, many more will take the opportunity to give a chance to this rewarding career.
After a few years of wage freezes, in 2019, Doug Ford implemented Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. Ironically, this bill stripped many front line workers of their right to collectively bargain, capping wage increases at 1%. This left agencies with no real ability to be competitive in the job market. When COVID-19 hit, the field was already struggling from all of the austerity measures implemented, and our public services had already taken so many cuts. “The pandemic was the tipping point that has led to a developmental services worker shortage. Low wages, no pensions and the lack of full-time work have plagued the developmental services sector for years. Now workers are leaving the field in droves, unable to cope with back-to-back shifts, delayed vacation, illness and burnout” quotes OPSEU, the union representing a group of around 100 developmental services employees in Kemptville and across the province.
We as a society have a collective responsibility to ensure people with intellectual disabilities live safe and fulfilling lives. Support staff and families who have the proper resources (and respect) to do the work we love and make a good living will stick around through the good times and the hard ones. We come and stay because we care about people, but we need to be able to care for ourselves and our families too.
So, here’s a shout out to all developmental services workers on this special week, and specifically to the Local 434 members in North Grenville and management team that have given the people we support their best.