Nurses and personal support workers were seen protesting outside Albright Manor in Lincoln on July 16, as a result of a series of complaints they've made against the Beamsville long-term-care centre.
In March 2020, an emergency order was enacted by the provincial government that allowed health service provider employers to defer or cancel vacation requests by employees to ensure staffing levels were high enough to provide around-the-clock care for residents, as well as reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections.
Employees at Albright are now alleging that the care centre is “abusing” the emergency provisions order. Albright management is defending any vacation cancellations as a necessity to keep staffing levels adequate.
“Everybody has been overworked, they're burnt out, they just need time off,” said Karen Kubik, a personal support worker, union steward and Albright employee of 38 years. “And these girls have worked long and hard over the last year and a half. They deserve time with their family. A lot of these girls are working overtime,” she said.
“If you don't take care of the staff, how are they going to care for the residents?” asked Nikki Harper, a 12-year employee of Albright, also a personal support worker and a union steward.
She said the understaffing issue existed well before COVID-19 or the provisions order, but employees were still granted vacations then. She said in order to get any time off, employees are left with the option to call in sick or get a leave of absence through their doctors.
Protesting staff made several complaints, including consistent understaffing despite the order in place, Albright rejecting vacation requests shortly before the timing of the vacation, lack of inclusion of union staff into staff vacation decisions and low wages.
At the time of the protest, Albright Manor chief executive officer William ter Harmsel was confirmed to be on vacation by Ashley Haynes, chief financial and information technology officer for Albright Manor. Haynes said the CEO was on a “long overdue vacation,” via email correspondence with Niagara this Week.
Despite staff alleging that the collective agreements have not been honoured, Haynes said in an email that Albright has tried to respect the agreements as much as possible “but has utilized this order, when necessary, in order to maintain safety of the home.”
“It is true that Albright has staff vacancies especially when it comes to personal support workers and that we have been constantly hiring during the pandemic. This situation is not unique to Albright but unfortunately the systemic problem in the health-care industry,” said Haynes.
Haynes said the provincial government has been assisting with hiring as employee retention by offering more affordable training, shortened training period and temporary wage enhancements.
Employees claim that they’ve only seen a one per cent raise and as a result, and many have quit.
When asked if these claims were accurate and if Albright had done something outside of provincial mandates to financially help employees, Haynes said: “The Ontario legislature passed Bill 124, which sets out specific rules concerning compensation increases. It would be fair to say this legislation did/will limit their annual compensation to one per cent per year, over a period of three years.”
As for allegations of short notice vacation denials, Haynes said: “Some staff vacation has been denied. The majority of these cancelled vacation days occur on the weekend. We try our best to not cancel whole vacations but sometimes we need to cancel individual vacation days in order to maintain a safe staffing level in the home.”
Union workers claimed that they attempted to set up a meeting in January to discuss vacation hours with staff, but were not provided the opportunity to meet nor provide input. When asked to validate these claims, Haynes said, “Dialogue with the union and employees has been maintained,” but offered no insight into the alleged January meeting.
Currently, there is no set expiry date on the provisional order from the province.
Moosa Imran, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News