Direct care work in Canada: comparing occupational health & safety and labour outcomes for migrant care workers in Alberta and Ontario
The absence of policies to protect care workers’ occupational health and safety and labour rights is a major cause for concern during COVID-19. This is especially true for Direct Care Workers (DCWs) – personal support workers, health-care aides, and in-home care providers – who assist recipients of care with their ‘Acts of Daily Living’ (ADL) such as eating, bathing, cooking, etc. Compared to doctors and nurses, DCWs are comparatively poorly compensated, lack labour protections, and are more exposed to COVID-19. A Health Canada study reveals, for example, that DCWs are 3.3x more likely to contract COVID‑19 compared to nurses (Canadian Institute for Health Information 2021).
The overarching goal of the proposed research, “Direct Care Work in Canada: Comparing Occupational Health & Safety and Labour Outcomes for Migrant Care Workers in Alberta and Ontario,” is to apply a multi-scalar analysis of historical, policy, and institutional contexts to generate new insights into Direct Care Workers’ (DCWs) experiences during and post-COVID. The project focuses on DCWs’ experiences in Alberta and in Ontario, which are the provinces with the two highest COVID‑19 infection rates in Canada.The key research questions informing this project are thus: to what extent have provincial and institutional (workplace) policies and practices accounted for DCWs’ health & safety and labour rights? How do DCWs’ experiences differ? What initiatives are DCWs and their organizations pursuing in support of DCWs’ rights?
The project answers these questions using five distinct and interrelated lines of analysis. First, it will develop a targeted set of occupational health and safety and labour recommendations for ministry decision-makers (e.g., Alberta and Ontario’s Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour, and Ministry of Long-Term-Care) and federal decision-makers (e.g., Health Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada) through policy analysis. Second, it will map variations in care workers’ working conditions in different workplace settings, including community care, home care, and long-term care settings through institutional analysis of various work places to encourage stronger occupational health & safety and labour outcomes for DCWs in each setting. Third, it will analyze from the perspectives of care workers themselves the challenges that COVID‑19 presented to them, to their clients/patients and to their employers through practice analysis. Fourth, it will explore the coalition-building between care workers, care recipients, and families of care recipients through movement analysis. And fifth, it will undertake a comparative analysis of variations in labour and occupational health & safety policies, workplace settings and practices, and care worker movements in Alberta and in Ontario. A comparison between Alberta and Ontario will reveal the extent to which provincial policies and societal norms affect outcomes. Research methods include documentary and policy analysis, one-on-one and focus group interviews, participant observation, and virtual ethnography.
To meet these objectives, there will be two research teams. The PI, based in Ontario, will be supported by the Migrant Resource Centre Canada (MRCC). The Co-A, based in Alberta, will be supported by the Alberta Workers Association for Research and Education (AWARE) and by the Association of Care Workers in Alberta (ACA). Expected outputs for the project include academic articles, policy briefs, community reports, and in-person and virtual knowledge symposiums. All of these are geared towards advancing knowledge about care work, creating best practices for provincial labour and occupational health & safety policies, enhancing community knowledge, and helping with pandemic preparedness.