Working as a Personal Support Worker

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There is an ever-growing demand for Personal Support Workers (PSWs) in Canada. And now, as the COVID 19 pandemic rages on and other health care professionals struggle to cope with the increased number of patients needing care, PSWs have become more valuable. 

In December 2020, the Federal government announced $23.2 million to fund an accelerated program to train around 4000 PSW interns through the Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan). 

A personal support worker caring for a senior as pictured by Zinkevych

Who is a Personal Support Worker (PSW)? 

PSWs look after people who need extra care to manage their daily lives. These are the very old and infirm, the sick, and the differently-abled, who need someone to help them live as independently as possible. They help with housekeeping, companionship, socializing, and meal preparation. 

While providing care and assistance, PSWs manage the medication of their clients and assess their health status by carefully monitoring and documenting the progress of the person in their care. A PSW is expected to report any changes or progress observed in their clients to a supervisor, care coordinator, or a family member. 

PSWs find employment in long and short –term care facilities, retirement homes, hospitals, supportive housing facilities, adult day care programs, in the private homes of the people they look after, in some clinics, and in doctors’ offices. 

According to published surveys, PSWs mostly find employment in long-term care (57%), in the community (36%), and in hospitals (7%). 

A PSW can be called a different name, depending on the province and employer.   

Meanwhile, there are many colleges, universities and private organizations that offer PSW courses with varying duration from eight hours upwards. Online classes may also be available. 

Those aspiring to work as PSWs don’t need to have specific education or training for the job. However, most employers prefer to hire those with certification in PSW, first aid and CPR, or some health care background. It is therefore not surprising that many foreign-trained nurses and medical doctors start off their careers as PSWs while completing the licensure requirements to practice in Canada. 

Even though these professionals work in health care and private homes across Canada, their work is not regulated. There is no governing body that oversees the profession, nor do they require licensing, unlike other health care professionals.  

While there is no regulatory body to oversee this profession, the Canadian Support Workers Association (CANSWA) is the only professional association in the country for these frontline health workers. The association, which was established in 2014, represents 65,000 PSWs across Canada. CANSWA has chapters in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

In the absence of a regulated standard of practice, CANSWA has “taken the initiative to develop and uphold Standards of Practice to protect the public and protect all vested stakeholders through the development of a defined scope of practice, development of standards of care, and a complaints process for all”, according to their website. 

Immigrant Muse contacted Ian da Silva, the Director of Operations for CANSWA and Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA) to learn about the Associations’ work. 

IMM: What are the categories of membership?  

Ian: Associate members are non-PSWs, who work as community caregivers. Regular members hold a PSW training or Canadian equivalent from another province. Grandfathered PSWs are internationally educated nurses who are legally permitted to work in Canada and are currently residing in Ontario. Members receive professional liability insurance. The OPSWA website provides more information on memberships. (https://ontariopswassociation.com/memberships

IMM: How long does it take to become a member? 

Ian: Processing times can take between one to two weeks. 

IMM: In what way does CANSWA support its members? 

Ian: Continuing education, legal support, HR issues, letters of recommendation, job search, and advocacy. 

IMM: Do you act as a regulatory body in any way? If not, if there are any issues that PSWs face, where can they get help? 

Ian: The CANSWA/OPSWA is not a regulator but a voluntary professional association.  There is currently no regulator in Ontario but there are plans to create one with bill 283. PSWs are welcome to reach out to us. They can also connect to their local emergency services (911). 

IMM: Are PSWs required to be vaccinated against communicable diseases and tuberculosis?  What about criminal record checks? 

Ian: Vaccination mandates are set by certain employers across Canada. There remains no formal insistence from the federal government on this matter due to constitutional limitations.  Criminal Checks are sort of required. Some companies insist on regular checks. Our membership for example performs these on our members each year as a condition of membership. Some employers simply require them to sign an affidavit that they have no criminal record. 

Earning Potential of PSWs 

While the federal government determines the policy for health care nationwide, each province or territory decides on how it is delivered and also on the payment structures for health care workers. Wages vary from employer to employer. 

Though hospitals employ fewer PSWs, they pay the highest wages.

On average, a PSW earns $ 19.50 an hour.  For those just starting in the field, the average wage is around $16.50 an hour or $ 32,000 annually, while the more experienced worker earns around $ 24 an hour or $ 47,000 annually. 

PSWs in the Yukon and the North West Territories are paid the highest rate because of the shortage of workers given the long winters.  

Here is the average hourly rate in each province and territory: 

Province/Territory Rate 
Yukon $ 30.75 
North West Territories $ 25 
Nunavut$ 24.99 
British Columbia$ 21.65 
Ontario $ 20.50 
Alberta $ 20.50 
Newfoundland & Labrador $ 17.20 
Saskatchewan $ 17.15 
Quebec $16.75 
Nova Scotia $ 16.15 
Manitoba $ 15.15 
New Brunswick $ 14.75 
Prince Edward Island $ 14.75 

Available reports indicate that the highest demand for PSWs currently is in Ontario. 

Kshama Ranawana
Kshama Ranawana

Kshama Ranawana is a freelance writer, publishing both in Canada and in Sri Lanka, her country of birth. She is a contributing columnist to EconomyNext.com and Counterpoint.lk. Kshama is also a human rights activist, with decades long commitment to freedom of speech, protection of journalists, freedom of worship, women’s rights, and protection of vulnerable communities and the environment. 

Email: kshama@immigrantmuse.ca

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