The Alberta Disability Workers Association (ADWA) was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Deborah Onwu while performing her job as a support worker. We want to extend our sympathies to Deborah’s family and to those in her Woods Homes’ workplace. The death of a valued co-worker is always challenging. It is even more devastating when that person is killed in their workplace while performing their duties.
We do not know the details of Deborah’s experiences, but we do know that Alberta human services workers face many on the job challenges that are influenced by broader systemic issues. ADWA is committed to working with industry partners to improve the safety of our workforce. Workers should not be in imminent danger while they are performing their duties. At the same time, we recognize our sector has a commitment to the people we support to live full lives as active members of their communities. We want to work to maximize both safety for workers and the quality of life for the people we support.
ADWA is committed to working collaboratively with industry partners to advocate for the following:
1. That individuals with disabilities have adequate and appropriate supports in place to ensure the safety of workers, others with disabilities and the broader community.
2. That workplaces have policies and procedures in place to protect the workers within their work environment, as well as ensuring the safety of those they support and the broader community.
3. That workers have appropriate and adequate education and training to do their work.
4. That the government provides the necessary funding to ensure that the appropriate level of staffing is in place to safely deliver the necessary services.
We need to have ongoing discussions as a broader inclusive community about how we can provide safer workplaces while ensuring those we support experience decent lives. Workers need to be at the table and involved in those discussions as they are the experts on their day-to-day experiences.
Advocacy for Fair Compensation
With the 2019 provincial elections complete and a new Premier and Community and Social Services Minister sworn in, we have started our next round of advocacy to address disability service system challenges. We sent letters of congratulations and introduction to Premier Jason Kenney and Minister Rajan Sawhney on May 7.(Click on the name to review the letter sent to that official). We highlighted some key issues related to wages and also recommended continuing the community-led PDD review process started last year. Each letter was accompanied by handouts on field issues and certification. Please feel free to share the letters and documents within the sector or in your own advocacy efforts.
ADWA has actvely promoted disability worker involvement in the 2018 PDD Review. We spoke to the Minister and his staff at public meetings on the design of the review. We gathered and shared data from our sector regarding how they would like to participate and what timelines were needed to ensure that they could do so. We used what our the disability workforce told us was necessary to achieve better lives for individuals with disabilities to shape our key messages. And we have actively participated in the PDD Review community consultations in as many communities as possible. We are continuing to craft our messages and get the word out to members in our E-Bulletins and other meetings.
ADWA Board and staff met with Community and Social Services Deputy Minister Shannon Marchand on March 8, 2018 to discuss issues affecting disability workers and ADWA's role. Our conversation with the Deputy Minister focused on 3 areas: the need for improved worker compensation dollars in service provider and family-managed contracts (beyond those needed to support changes in minimum wage and in employment standards for statutory holiday pay, which are also important), the role of ADWA certification in our sector, and the need for disability workers to have a voice in the upcoming PDD review. Click on the links in the previous sentence to read the documents left with the Deputy Minister on these topics.
The Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities invited ADWA to identify major issues affecting people with disabilities and priorities for the Premier's Council. ADWA's submission highlighted the role of skilled and stable support in helping people meet their goals and have a good quality of life, and how inadequate compensation puts it all at jeopardy. We also highlighted the need for true community consultation before decisions affecting people are made. Valuing people with disabilities and their supports as positive elements of our community and engagement with people with a full range of disabilities, not just the most vocal segments, needs to be a priority. Read our entire submission here.
During 2016-2017, ADWA has been actively seeking to educate our government about the needs and issues of our sector related to such issues as fair compensation for disability workers, improved access to relevant education, certification, and safety. Part of this education process is also aimed at developing a better understanding among our elected officials of what members of our profession do and the skill required to do it. In January 2017, we sent a letter to all MLAs. While many were individualized to reflect previous interactions, here is the generic version of the letter we sent. Among the replies we received from various MLAs, Minister Sabir responded to us and included all MLAs in his distribution list. While the first page of his letter seems to reflect an understanding of the value of disability work, the second page suggests that the government's efforts to raise minimum wage will address the disability sector's compensation issues. Here is a copy of the Minister's letter to ADWA and MLAs in February. We thank those thoughtful members who gave thir input and feedback to our draft response. On June 13, 2017, we sent this letter to each MLA (including Minister Sabir and Premier Notley). Here is the reply we got from Minister Sabir on July 18. Thanks to the efforts of ADWA, its members and partners' advocacy, the government has now promised to include money for the minimum wage increases in contracts. We continue to advocate for fair compensation for disability workers.
ADWA Member discount at 2018 ACDS Spring Conference
Once again, ADWA members will be able to get the same discounted rate as employees of ACDS member agencies to register for the 2018 Spring ACDS conference. This was a "member perk" identified by members attending the ADWA 2016 AGM last year. Staff and board members of ADWA negotiated the arrangement with ACDS again this year. To access this rate, put ADWA-DH in the PO box on the registration form.
ADWA and ACDS have a commitment to partner to the benefit of the sector wherever possible. We also partner on projects related to workforce issues, such as worker safety.
Human Services Ministry splits and changes name
On January 19, 2016, the Government of Alberta announced that it has split the Human Services Ministry into Children's Services, led by Donna Larivee, and Community and Society Services, led by Irfan Sabir as before. The Disability Services division, which will now be called the Disabilities, Inclusion and Accessibility division, will remain with Minister Sabir. The Public Guardian and Trustee will transfer to the Justice and Solicitor General Ministry.