Kathy Fitzpatrick joined the On the Move Partnership as a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, having completed a BA and MA in Geography at Simon Fraser University. Kathy’s research examines employment-related geographical mobilities (E-RGM) within the working lives of Newfoundland home care workers. She has conducted interviews with 37 home care workers, 10 home care agencies and 16 key informants. Her work looks at how E-RGM affects these precarious workers and their families, home care agencies and small rural communities. Her research interests include labour mobility, precarious work, gender and work, and gender and health.
Q: Your doctoral research focuses on employment-related geographical mobility (E-RGM) among Newfoundland home care workers. What are some of your main findings regarding the types of E-RGM undertaken by these workers and their potential impacts?
A: While interviewing Newfoundland home care workers living in the St. John’s metropolitan area and southwest Newfoundland (SWNL), I identified three types of E-RGM: daily local, local live-in and interprovincial live-in.
Home care workers who engaged in daily local E-RGM traveled to one or more client’s homes each day, and many of these home care workers were unionized. In contrast, women who engaged in local live-in E-RGM provided 24-hour care and lived with the client in their region for seven days followed by a seven-day break. Finally, home care workers who participated in interprovincial live-in E-RM traveled to Nova Scotia, and occasionally to New Brunswick, and provided live-in care for a client for periods ranging from two weeks to one month and then they traveled back to Newfoundland for a couple of weeks.
The workers who engaged in daily local commutes earned a higher hourly wage, but some experienced irregular hours and most worked a second job. In contrast, home care workers involved in local live-in and interprovincial live-in care often earned a higher monthly income than most who engaged in daily local E-RGM, but their hourly wage was considerably less when calculated over 24 hours. In SWNL, many of the home care workers moved between the different forms of E-RGM, whereas interviewed home care workers living in St. John’s Metropolitan Area only participated in daily local E-RGM.
The home care workers I interviewed worked in transient and isolated workplaces, and workers in all forms of E-RGM reported unsafe working environments, sexual, physical and emotional harassment by clients, musculoskeletal injuries, and insufficient knowledge about the client. Those engaged in either local live-in or interprovincial live-in E-RGM seemed to stay longer with difficult and harassing clients compared to those who participated in daily local commute E-RGM.
Q: Above you note that “women who engaged in local live-in E-RGM provided 24-hour care and lived with the client in their region for seven days followed by a seven-day break.” I italicized the word “women” here so to focus a little on gender – were all the home care workers you interviewed women? And if they were, why do you think that is?
A: That’s an interesting question. Of the 37 home care workers interviewed, only two were male, and both engaged in daily local commutes and cared for men with disabilities. Like all caring work, home care work is gendered and considered appropriate work for women because typically women spend more time caring for family members and as a result, most female and male clients prefer a female home care worker.
Q: What was the most interesting, surprising, or unexpected thing that your research taught you about the E-RGM experiences of home-care workers in Newfoundland?
A: There were so many interesting, surprising and unexpected things that my research taught me about the E-RGM experiences of Newfoundland home care workers and it’s hard to narrow it down to one. Off the top on my head there are three things that I was surprised to find.
First, I was surprised at the amount of time spent traveling and waiting by workers participating in both interprovincial and daily E-RGM. Prior to starting field work, I knew that SWNL interprovincial home care workers commuted 8 to 12 hours to Nova Scotia, but what I didn’t consider was the time spent waiting at the ferry terminal, especially for those who take a shuttle bus to their client’s home. NL home care workers usually arrive between 9:30 pm and 10:00 pm for a ferry departure of 11:30 pm from Port Aux Basques. Once the ferry arrives in North Sydney about 6:30 or 7:00 am many home care workers board a shuttle bus and are then dropped off at the client’s home or town. The time spent traveling in the shuttle bus ranges from 2.5 hour to 4.5 hours, and depends on the client’s location (Cape Breton or Halifax) as well as stops along the way for coffee, washroom breaks, and to drop off and pick up other home care workers. Similarly, on the way back, home care workers traveled by shuttle bus, picking up other passengers along the way, typically arriving at the ferry terminal around 6:00 pm for a ferry departure of 11:30 pm. During the wait, home care workers socialized in the ferry terminal, shopped or ate dinner at a local restaurant. This wait extended the commuting time from 8 to 12 hours to 13.5 to 17.5 hours, and remember, they don’t get paid for this time.
Some home care workers engaged in daily local E-RGM also spend considerable time commuting and traveling between transient workplaces. One home care worker I interviewed spent two hours daily traveling back and forth to care for a client because care was scheduled first thing in the morning and later at night. Home care workers traveling by bus often waited in nearby coffee shops before caring for the next client.
Second, some home care workers chose to participate in local live-in E-RGM or interprovincial E-RGM because they did not have have access to a car. If the home care client paid for the ferry and the shuttle bus, interprovincial E-RGM travel costs were often cheaper than paying for a taxi or depending on a family member to travel locally for part-time work.
Third, I was struck by how home care workers’ E-RGM are rhythmic and interconnected by other rhythms such as family routines (both workers and clients), co-workers’ itineraries, transportation schedules, client’s biological needs and routines, weather systems, and for those employed by a home care agency, a schedule based on the agency’s obligations and requirements.
Q: Are there specific provincial or federal policy changes that you think would help alleviate some of the more negative consequences of E-RGM among home care workers in this province?
A: The following five provincial policy changes would alleviate some of the most negative consequences of E-RGM among home care workers in this province.
First, home care workers engaged in daily local E-RGM often travel between workplaces but are usually not compensated for their time. Workers should be compensated for travel time. If they are traveling between clients receiving public subsidized care, then the cost of traveling should be compensated by the Department of Health and Community Services.
Second, home care workers engaged in daily local E-RGM should be eligible for Worker Compensation Benefits (WCB) if injured while traveling between clients’ homes.
Third, home care workers reported a lack of information about their clients. For home care workers participating in daily local E-RGM, a risk assessment and workplace inspection of transient workplaces should be done by the home care agency representative with the worker(s) and should be redone when a situations change.
Fourth, most NL home care workers engaged in interprovincial live-in E-RGM reported that they work 24 hours a day. Provincial employment legislation in NL and NS should be changed to ensure that there is a maximum number of hours a day that an NL live-in home care worker cares for an individual, similar to the hours outlined for international workers employed in the Live-in Caregiver Program.
Fifth, home care workers, employed in the self-managed care program are ineligible for Workers Compensation Benefits if injured on the job unless the client purchases optional personal coverage from Workplace NL. According to Workplace NL, few home care clients purchase this coverage, perhaps because those receiving the self-managed care are low-income and cannot afford to pay the premium. The optional personal coverage premium should be paid by the Department of Health and Community Services, as workers employed by home care agencies who provide services for subsidized home care are eligible for workers compensation if injured on the job.
Q: I understand that you’ve worked closely with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) during portions of your research. What are some of the benefits of working with a large union like NAPE? What are some of the challenges?
A: I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with NAPE during portions of my research, and I think my research is better for it. Before I started interviewing home care workers, NAPE representatives reviewed my interview schedule and suggested that I include a question about home care workers’ duties. As a result, I discovered that home care workers also administer medications, provide palliative care, and some supervise parents and children in the supervisory access program while others cared for troubled youth in hotels. I was provided names of home care workers to interview, which was helpful as finding workers in isolated workplaces was challenging. A final benefit was exchanging information about home care workers’ working conditions and health and safety issues.
Q: Has your work with NAPE resulted in any changes to collective agreements that could potentially affect the health and well-being of home-care workers in the province?
A: NAPE representatives were receptive to my recommendations and included a couple of my suggestions when negotiating the collective agreements. Before, some but not all of the collective agreements had clauses that required the employer to notify the worker if the client had a contagious disease or behavioral concerns, but now all the collective agreements have this clause. Future negotiations may include other recommendations.
Q: Has your overall perspective on E-RGM changed or grown over the course of your involvement with On the Move? If so, in what ways?
A: I think that my overall perspective on E-RGM has grown over the course of my involvement with On the Move. When I first started thinking about E-RGM, I focused on the distance workers traveled to and from work and how their commutes may influence their working conditions and health and safety. More recently, I’ve realized that both distance and the time spent commuting (including wait times) as well as the organization of their workday is also important. Also, I’ve grown to appreciate how important it is to consider both the natural environments and socio-economic processes. E-RGM is interconnected to so many other facets of life such as familial responsibilities, state policies, housing, local labour markets, and transportation infrastructure, to name a few. Looking across sectors and at specific points along the E-RGM spectrum offers a unique opportunity to better understand the changing landscape of work and commuting in Canada.