The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is calling on the province to raise wages for health-care workers as the cost of living outpaces salaries.
On Wednesday, the union released a new report called From Pay Cheque to Pay Cheque: The impact of the rising cost of living on health care workers. The results came from a nine-question survey taken by CUPE 5430 members between Nov. 1 and Nov. 9 on how they have coped with increased expenses over the past two years.
“There’s no doubt that health-care workers, health-care support workers are an essential part of the health-care team and in many ways they really are the pillars of the health-care system” CUPE National President Mark Hancock said at the release of the report on Wednesday.
“But Saskatchewan health-care workers haven’t received an adequate pay increase in well over a decade.”
According to CUPE, the survey was fully completed by 1,986 CUPE 5430 members, representing a participation rate of 15 per cent. Out of those surveyed, 74 per cent work full-time, 20 per cent work part-time, 15 per cent work relief or casual, and three per cent have temporary positions.
Eighty-six per cent of respondents said they are female and 13 per cent said they are male. Thirty-five per cent of respondents said they are the sole income earner in their household.
The survey found 17 per cent of respondents have one other job and three per cent have two or more. While those who work part-time or casually for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) were more likely to have other jobs than those with full-time positions, 18 per cent of full-time employees reported they have other jobs.
Hancock said low wages and the spiralling cost of living are having a huge impact on recruitment and retention in the province.
“The report shows that over the last decade, the cost of living has increased by over 27 per cent, and while inflation has increased by 27 per cent, our members working in the health-care system have only seen wage increases of 14 per cent,” he said.
“This erosion of purchasing power has resulted in the real loss of thousands of dollars in annual incomes for CUPE members.”
Eighty-six per cent of respondents said they cut back their grocery budget to make ends meet; 84 per cent said they cut back on leisure activities and hobbies; 77 per cent said they delayed a major purchase and 73 per cent said they cancelled or scaled back vacation plans.
Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they couldn’t manage any unexpected expenses and 54 per cent said their household’s finances are poor.
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As the report highlights cost-of-living struggles being faced by health-care workers, the day-to-day toll of emergency room pressures was illustrated again this week.
Three months after the Saskatoon fire department found St. Paul’s Hospital wasn’t meeting fire code requirements due to patients situated in overcrowded hallways, nurses in St. Paul’s emergency room waiting area on Monday implemented an informal stop-the-line — a last-resort measure — for the first time ever in the hospital. A patient seeking emergency treatment was put in a bed in full view of people in the area, as there was nowhere else for hospital staff to set her up.
Stop-the-line is a phrase with roots in the manufacturing industry, where assembly lines can be stopped in an emergency. In health care, if staff encounter a risk to patient safety or care, they can stop-the-line and focus on fixing the pressing issue in front of them.
After the fire department warning in November, the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced a plan to address the capacity crisis at St. Paul’s. Roughly three months later, “it’s clearly not working,” the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses said.
In a Facebook post, SUN said nurses “have now, out of desperation (and) fear for patient safety, enacted stop-the-line — a last-resort measure to compel urgent attention (and) action.”
“Saskatchewan is the birthplace of our public health care, and it’s unacceptable that the health-care system is plagued with shutdowns and service disruptions,” Hancock said.
“We stand united to demand better wages, increased staffing levels and better working conditions for the members, for the workers that we represent.”
— With files from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix