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Red Cross hopeful wage woes will be resolved

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The Canadian Red Cross hasn't issued any layoff notices to its homemakers yet as it hopes Ontario's three political parties come up with a solution for the organization's pay equity woes before the end of the year.

Failing that, Red Cross president Gabrielle Moule admitted they would be forced to turn the homemaker service over to another operator.

But until the three provincial leaders meet and start hashing out what amendments—if any—might be made to Bill 26 (the pay equity law), no one knows just what lies ahead for the 32 homemakers and 200 clients the Canadian Red Cross Society Homemaker Service offers from Rainy River to Bears Pass.

“It's a little too early to say if there's going to be any changes," noted Judy MacDonald, manager of the Kenora, Dryden and Fort Frances offices. "They're hoping this issue will be resolved soon.”

“We're hopeful that we can come up with a solution," echoed Tony Maxwell, with Labour minister Elizabeth Witmer's office in Toronto. "[But] if there was an easy solution, it would've been reached years ago.”

Maxwell noted letters went out from Witmer's office—which oversees Bill 26—to both Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty and NDP leader Howard Hampton.

But Hampton said yesterday he hadn't received a letter requesting a meeting. And he questioned why the Ministry of Labour was handling the issue.

“This is a health care issue," he stressed. "[But] the government wants to treat this as a labour issue. I expect we'll meet with the minister of labour if that's what it boils down to.”

But if the government's only solution was to cut wages, Hampton said he wouldn't agree. He argued the government just didn't want to pay “pay equity.”

He also felt this was another attempt to privatize home care services.

A plea for assistance came from the Red Cross last week, informing the premier it wouldn't be able to meet its pay equity obligations by Jan. 1, 1998.

Although the Red Cross has been making adjustments since pay equity was first introduced in 1988, it said it's still is $35.7 million short of meeting its goal.

Under the pay equity legislation, introduced in 1988 by the then Liberal government and amended by the then NDP government in 1993, Red Cross wages and benefits would have to jump an additional $5.95 per hour by Jan. 1.

That would bring average wages to around $17 per hour.

“It's not an alternative to put the salaries up that much,” MacDonald admitted.

“I'm sure that once legislators realize that the pay equity requirement represents a one-time pay hike of 45 percent that common sense will prevail,” Moule said.

“Surely they'll recognize that no employer—particularly a non-profit agency—can possibly absorb that kind of an increase and continue operating.”

Regardless of what happens, MacDonald assured clients here will not go without care.

The Red Cross homemakers provide in-home assistance to the frail and elderly, the disabled, and others to help them meet their daily needs.

In 29 rural communities across Ontario, including the Fort Frances area, the Red Cross is the only agency providing this service.

The local Community Care Access Centre contracts the service from the Red Cross.

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