Investing in women’s work

Investing in women’s work

I can’t predict the outcome of these contract talks to renew our members’ collective agreement, but I can tell you right now that the government has underestimated a key factor in the equation. It doesn’t fully appreciate the need to invest in attracting and retaining qualified personnel in its solutions to the blatant problems plaguing the health and social services sector. This is a serious miscalculation.

To keep its edge in the popularity polls and boost its image in its handling of the social aspects of the health crisis, the CAQ government has announced a slew of investments in health and social services over the past few months.

In November 2020, the government allocated $100 million to improve access to mental health services, even if it meant relying on psychologists in private practice. In December, $10 million was added to this investment to improve services for young people experiencing first-episode psychosis. Six months later, we learned that the huge waiting lists for these services had been reduced by less than 3%. Why did these investments yield such poor results? For one thing, psychologists in the private sector failed to answer the call.

After $48 million was invested in rolling out the Agir tôt program in July 2019, targeting children with developmental delays or learning disabilities, the very personnel required for this crucial prevention initiative – psychosocial personnel in CLSCs – were forced to drop their regular duties and go wherever they were reassigned, due to the pandemic.

The day after the Special Commission on the Rights of the Child and Youth Protection tabled its report, the deputy minister stated his commitment to “ensure a diligent and rigorous response to its recommendations.” The response that followed a few weeks later, however, was a directive sent to the institutions, recommending that they refrain from posting any new positions, to preclude workers in youth centres from applying for jobs elsewhere.

In late May, deputy minister Lionel Carmant injected $21 million into behavioural rehabilitation services, on top of the $30 million already allocated to increase residential care availability for people living with a physical or intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder.

What’s wrong with this picture?

These laudable aspirations to improve services for those in urgent need of specialized care all come up against the same obstacle: insufficient resources to increase access to services and reduce wait times.

And even if millions of dollars were poured into creating new positions, those jobs would still need duly qualified personnel to fill them. A proliferation of job vacancies has never solved anything.

In refusing to improve working conditions for employees in the public sector, the government is shooting itself in the foot. New recruits won’t exactly be rushing into careers in fields where they face daily stress and constraints, and in some sectors, grueling conditions… only to be paid less than what they would earn elsewhere for equivalent work.

The era when women’s work was seen as a vocation and men were assumed to be the breadwinners is long gone. In 2021, who wants to be paid a woman’s wage?

If the government really cares about the vulnerable populations it has promised to serve, and is serious about actually meeting its objectives and pushing forward with these services, it needs to have the right tools. In health and social services, the need is above all for committed, qualified human resources.

To ensure that public investments pay off in the future, the government should be investing in you.

By Robert Comeau | June 15, 2021

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