Disability support workers top of the agenda at budget consultation
Low salaries for disability support workers was the issue that took centre stage at the province’s first 2023 budget consultation meeting hosted by Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen and Borderland MLA and newly named legislative assistant to the finance minister Josh Guenter.
Held at Days Inn on Tuesday, the event was billed as an opportunity for Manitobans to share their priorities for the provincial budget.
While presenters covered a variety of topics including the need for more basket funding for municipalities, improvements to the immigration system, the need for more funding for organizations like the Pat Porter Active Living Centre, and public transportation from Steinbach to Winnipeg, presenters repeatedly referred to the challenge of hiring and keeping disability supporter workers because of low wages.
Presentations took place after Guenter shared a presentation on budget numbers, pointing out the $20 billion planned budget will see 72 percent directed to health, education and social services.
“It’s very important that we get those areas right,” he said.
The presentation was also a brag book of sorts for the PC government, who pointed out they achieved the first balanced budget in 2019/20 the province had seen in a decade. They highlighted increases to spending to health (17.9 percent over the last four years, a commitment to take on crime, funds for family affordability, and tax reductions.
Manager of enVision Community Living Robert Wilkinson was the first to bring up the challenges of disability support workers
He said while an increase in 2022 brought the salary up to $15.11, it was simply not enough to attract and keep employees. He pointed out that many of the tasks are the same as those done by health care aides, who received a nine percent raise, adding that EA’s who support the same people in school get $30 per hour.
Brent McNaughten of El’Dad Ranch, a program that provides residential support, vocational training and assistance for men with intellectual disabilities had the same concerns.
“Are you going to greatly increase the wages for support workers in Manitoba?” he asked. “I implore you to bring up support workers salaries to $18 for starting. And that’s a minimum.”
Debra Roach, founding member of the Family Advocacy Network of Manitoba echoed previous concerns saying families of those with disabilities need peace of mind to know that the support workers will be paid a living wage and provide consistent service.
Goertzen assured those present that this concern was one they are aware of.
“It’s been heard clearly,” he said.
After the meeting he told The Carillon that this has been an issue they have addressed in part.
“The government did add $10 million to boost the wages last year of disability support workers and that created a gap between minimum wage and what those disability support workers were starting at,” he said. “The problem was that inflation went the way that nobody anticipated and that drove up minimum wage so the gap that we created between minimum wage and what disability support workers were making quickly evaporated.”
This crisis is of the government’s own making according to NDP Finance Critic and Fort Garry MLA Mark Wasyliw who attended the meeting.
“People need to be paid a living wage and the Manitoba NDP has called for direct support workers to have living wages,” he said.
Wasyliw said the disparity in wages is due to the government’s wage freezes they brought in when they first took office.
“They fought with labour unions to prevent raises. So now it’s done, we can’t staff those valuable, valuable positions, the government has to play catch-up,” he said. “This is not how you run a government; this is chaos.”
Taxpayers can still offer their thoughts on the upcoming budget. Regional telephone town halls are scheduled for Winnipeg on Feb. 7 and rural Manitoba on Feb. 8. Manitobans can also take part in an online survey at engagemb.ca, email comments and ideas to Budget2023feedback@gov.mb.ca or mail Minister of Finance c/o budget engagement, 103-450 Broadway, Winnipeg, MB, R3C 0V8.
Guenter said these opportunities for feedback are one of the most important aspects of budget planning.
“It’s absolutely important that as a government we’re listening to concerns and we incorporate what they’re saying into our budget planning,” he said.
Wasyliw was not so sure, saying the meeting seemed to be an exercise in pre-election marketing.
“This was more about selling a desperately unpopular government than actually providing answers to the people in this community,” he said. “So, I don’t think anybody got their question answered tonight and I think that’s deeply disappointing.”