By Tim Agg
Recently, Premier Christy Clark believed there was a good case for increasing salaries of some political staff.
She changed her mind, based on the public’s reaction.
But, there is a strong case to support pay increases for frontline workers in hard-pressed agencies delivering community social services, many of whom are literally not earning a living wage.
The government’s current approach to public sector wages is a “co-operative gains mandate.” Pay increases are acceptable, but only if the agency can come up with the funding with no decreases in service.
Perhaps that is workable in large ministries. It is not for the community sector.
The sector has been finding efficiencies for a decade, cutting services and costs to the bone. A large volunteer force helps us do more with the available funding.
There are simply no new efficiencies to be found to allow even modest staff salary increases.
The community social services sector delivers a tremendous range of essential services across the province. The sector works with struggling youth, deals with substance abuse, helps seniors stay in their homes and families overcome problems.
About 74 per cent of British Columbians have used the services we provide, according to a poll earlier this year.
Community social services are delivered by agencies in every corner of the province – large and small, rural and urban, union and non-union. They work under contracts with government and this funding is critical.
Budget freezes and cuts have taken a toll. Waiting lists have grown and people aren’t getting help when they need it. That means greater costs for all of us in the future, as their problems become more serious.
Our skilled and educated employees face more and more demands and have received no pay increases for several years. Too many earn less than a living wage, calculated at $19.62 an hour for Vancouver,
That’s not fair. And it is bad for those we serve. The sector attracts people with a real interest in helping others.
But, at some point, our employees have to consider themselves and their families. We lose valued staff, programs are disrupted and clients are hurt.
About 64,000 people work in the sector. We see their skill, experience and dedication every day.
And we know the quality of services depends on fair compensation for those people who do the frontline work every day. If we lose them, people and communities will suffer.
These are, of course, the time of tight government budgets. However, community social service agencies should not be forced to cut services to people who badly need them in order to pay for negotiated pay raises.
Government funding should include a reasonable provision for employee compensation increases. It is simply the right, smart thing to do.
Tim Agg is the Executive Director of PLEA Community Services Society and is writing on behalf of the Roundtable of Provincial Social Services Organizations.