Data shows women health-care aides in care homes are undervalued

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The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified multiple, intersecting forms of inequality faced by women health-care aides in Calgary’s long-term care homes, says a University of Calgary researcher.

Sociologist Naomi Lightman recently completed an analysis of 2016 Census data, in which she studied the demographic profiles, earnings and self-rated health outcomes of long-term care aides.

“To my knowledge, this is the first data available that captures a representative profile of who is doing this work and how their labour is devalued in Calgary, despite loads of anecdotal evidence,” said Lightman.

Women make up the majority of this workforce at a staggering 89 per cent with immigrant and racialized women vastly overrepresented in the field, her findings show.

Additional imbalances are revealed when compared to Calgary’s female workforce only.

While immigrant women make up about 35.8 per cent of the city’s total, about 80 per cent fill roles as nurse aides, orderlies or patient service associates. Similarly, racialized women represent about 32.4 per cent of the city’s female workforce but 77 per cent in this sector — the majority of which are Black and Filipina women.


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Then there are issues of part-time employment, faulty labour conditions, inadequate pay and impacted physical and mental health, explained Lightman.

“We valourize these women as essential workers in the rhetoric we hear but we are certainly not putting our money where our mouth is,” she said. “Oftentimes these workers are ignored. They are ignored by government, by employers (and) by the general public.”

Even as COVID-19 devastated long-term care facilities, Lightman said these women’s voices went unheard. “The experiences of the women themselves were largely brushed under the rug,” she added, even as the public health crisis exacerbated existing inequalities.

One of the persistent issues is Alberta’s single-site policy, in which staff at long-term care or designated supportive living facilities are required to work at only one facility for the duration of the pandemic.

“From the qualitative data I’ve done, overwhelmingly these women were working at more than one worksite prior to the single-site work policy to make ends meets. This is largely because many of the employers are unwilling to provide full-time, permanent work because they have to pay additional workplace benefits,” said Lightman.

“It’s as if they are being maintained in precarity.”

Some women are earning upwards of 70 per cent less than they were pre-pandemic due to the policy, said Lightman, who is also conducting interviews with women in the field.


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She added that interviewees said the wage top-up program and the Critical Worker Benefit have been nothing more than a “drop in the bucket” for these women, who were already making less when compared to other health-care professions and the general public.

“We can’t just ignore these workers,” stressed Lightman.

She’s hoping her research will influence decisions made by policy-makers, government officials and immigrant advocacy organizations to ensure equity for these women in the labour market.

“I also hope this data will help us understand this is not a problem somewhere else,” said Lightman.

“This is a problem right here in Calgary.”

Twitter: @alanna_smithh


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