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The Overlooked Struggle - Impact of COVID-19 on Women PSWs

Before the pandemic, the role of personal support workers (PSWs) was often overlooked. PSWs tend to be predominantly immigrant women, who take care of our most vulnerable populations, yet, it is rare for them to get the recognition they solely deserve.

PSWs work in long term care facilities, retirement homes and even provide home-based care to those who are ill or elderly and need assistance in daily living. It’s no coincidence that the majority of PSW work is done by racialized women, as personal support and care work is a gendered role, with immigrant women accounting for the majority of caregiver roles. Despite all the hard work these women do, many are still overworked and underpaid and, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this!

Personal support work is known as the new precariat -since many are employed on a part-time basis, met with low job security and often have to apply and work in multiple facilities to make ends meet. During the pandemic, this becomes challenging as PSWs work in high touch areas, move in and out of facilities and travel between clients. Not only does this pose a risk in the spread of infection for the residents but also for the PSWs as well.

The Ontario government in October 2020 announced a wage enhancement for personal support workers and has decided to invest an additional $373 million to extend the temporary wage enhancement until March 2022.

However, is just a wage enhancement enough?

I took the time to speak with a Toronto PSW, who has been working for 15+ years and chooses to remain unnamed, about her experience working during the pandemic and her thoughts on the temporary wage enhancement.

“It’s been a very difficult time working as a PSW during the pandemic. There’s always a sense of fear, of being infected, not only for myself but the risk of spreading to my family, or to other clients as well,” she said.

“The wage increase is a good effort, but as a worker who doesn’t receive enough hours, I don’t think it’s enough. Before the pandemic, I was working more than one job in the field, however, this changed once COVID-19 happened, and I had to leave one. We as PSWs need more efforts to improve job security and our working environment.”

From just a short talk with this worker, it is clear that more support is needed!

“It is such a stressful time. I feel like my concerns are not being heard,” she said.

For PSWs, there is no governing body like there is for nurses, meaning no protection or regulation, and that needs to change. With the pandemic having these workers on the front lines, it is a crucial time for the needs of PSWs to be addressed.

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