Rapid tests, better masks, pandemic ‘pay bump’ needed for child-care staff: Manitoba NDP

Manitoba’s Opposition NDP says the provincial government must offer better supports to ensure child-care centres and workers make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Families with young children are really struggling right now. But it doesn’t have to be this hard,” said MLA Malaya Marcelino, the NDP’s critic for the status of women.

Premier Stefanson said that government can’t protect people but she’s wrong. We believe the PC government has a responsibility to protect families.”

The NDP on Friday called on the province to childhood educators and the families they serve by taking a number of tangible steps.

  • Provide every child-care worker and family with rapid tests and high-quality masks to detect positive cases early and reduce transmission.
  • Upgrade ventilation in every child-care centre.
  • Offer frontline child-care workers a pay bump and actively recruit more staff to offset staffing shortages.
  • Offer better financial support to centres that have to close temporarily because of staffing shortages.
  • Create an online dashboard for reporting cases as well as an open-channel of clear and consistent communication with centres and parents.

Since the Omicron variant took hold in Manitoba there have been high numbers of staff testing positive and isolating, as well as cases among young children, Marcelino said.

“Child-care centres are not as safe as they can be,” she said.

“We have to remember that children [under age five in Manitoba] are unvaccinated and are very difficult to cohort. So it’s very important that health and safety measures are in place at child-care centres.”

Malaya Marcelino, NDP critic for the status of women, says she has 14 child-care centres in her Notre Dame riding and has been told by many of them that they are struggling to get masks and rapid tests. (CBC)

A recent University of Manitoba survey, that received responses from 332 child-care centres, shows the sector is struggling and in desperate need of government support, the NDP said.

“This is an urgent matter. Things are going to get worse before it gets better,” Marcelino said.

Unlike Ontario, which has a COVID-19 dashboard listing cases at child-care centres, Manitoba does not tell child-care centres when a child in their care tests positive.

Tory funding freezes over the years have left staff at those centres trying to live off poverty-level wages, Marcelino said.

“We want the government to stop ignoring these child-care centres,” she said, adding the province needs to provide clear communication and support around the health guidelines that child-care centres are supposed to be following.

MLA Adrien Sala, a member of the NDP’s child-care committee, said the PC government has created an emergency in the child-care sector, which plays a key role in the overall functioning of the economy but “has been left teetering on the brink.”

There are thousands of early childhood educators providing essential services, yet 22 months into the pandemic some still don’t have the personal protective equipment they need or have seen improvements in ventilation, he noted.

“That is absolutely unfathomable,” he said. “It’s hard to believe we need to say this, but child-care workers are not expendable.”

Asked what level of pay bump is being suggested for those workers, Sala said the government needs to work with the sector “to figure out what that number might be.”