Community care workers have to drive to work, says employer
Community care workers in Victoria are having to trade in their trusty bicycles for some less environmentally friendly options in the coming months, thanks to a new requirement that states all caregivers must now drive a car to work.
The decision was implemented by Beacon Community Services — one of the main senior care providers in Victoria — in an announcement last November. Workers were given six months to obtain a car and licence by May 1 in order to keep working.
However, some workers say they only just found out last Monday, Feb. 28, in a reminder meeting with the B.C. Government Employees’ Union (BCGEU).
Sally, who prefers her real name isn’t used, is 57 years old and has been working as a senior care provider for 14 years. She hasn’t had a car or licence since moving to Victoria in 1981, and says that she’s devastated by the decision — one that could mean the loss of her current line of work.
“When I heard this … I thought it was a joke,” says Sally, who has always based her work on hourly care, as opposed to overnight or live-in service. “So many people are acting like this is no big deal, but I’ve never had or needed a car to do what I’m doing. I live and work in James Bay, and if I got a car I just would walk anyway. It makes no sense.”
Isobel McKenzie, executive director for Beacon Community Services, says there were many reasons for the change, mainly economizing care providers’ time.
“What we found was that when we’re scheduling as many as 4,000 visits to clients each day, we need to be able to count on our staff, and know that we can send this care provider to this location within this estimated driving time,” McKenzie says. “It’s really not practical to provide an hourly service if you can’t get around.”
McKenzie says that individuals with a medical condition that would prevent them from obtaining a licence could be considered exempt from the new requirement on a case-by-case basis, but that those people would most likely be moved to overnight or live-in service work.
“This may change how people do their jobs, and I completely understand that some people have concerns with this,” says McKenzie. “Myself and my husband are big bikers, we worry about the environment, too, and I know that people have found workable transportation in the past, but it’s just not an economical use of people’s time.”
While employees are on their own for licencing and car expenses, McKenzie says Beacon Community Services does pay 50 cents per kilometre for gas, and will pay the difference in insurance between regular and for-work use. She also adds that those who show proof of obtaining a ICBC Learners’ Permit could be given an extension to complete the licencing process.
Still, caregivers and utilizers have raised a number of concerns, including loss of care from many qualified professionals, costs of licencing, purchasing and insuring a vehicle, difficulties finding residential and work-day parking around the city and environmental impact.
When it comes to union assistance, the BCGEU has asked those affected by the change to express their concern in writing. However, Lori Strom, staff representative with the BCGEU, says there is little she can say on the issue at this time.
“The employer and the union are working on a resolution to the issue,” Strom says.
Out of the 1,100 staff currently employed by Beacon Community Services, an estimated 60 people do not hold licences. Sally points out that in a city with a thriving bus system, a cycle culture, and one that holds a vibrant attention to caring for the environment, Beacon Community Services’ decision is a slap in Victoria’s face.
“I’m scared out of my wits to have to drive in this city, and I can’t imagine losing my life’s work because of this,” Sally says.
“If the 60 or so of us have to stand in the unemployment line and give a reason why we’re not working, and to say it was because we didn’t have a car. How dare they.” M