The provincial government hopes to improve its social services in rural and remote communities, including Burns Lake, by offering annual bonuses to attract social workers and keep them on the job.
Currently, Burns Lake has three vacant front-line social worker positions – two of those have been vacant since April 2016 while the last was vacated in October.
Beginning next year, an estimated 250 social workers in 28 communities will receive either $6000 a year if senior and $3000 a year if they have less than two years of experience. There are five front-line social workers in Burns Lake who stand to benefit from the new pay incentive.
The recent announcement follows a 2015 sweeping review of provincial social services by former senior public official Bob Plecas. His review highlighted pay as a factor in the struggle to find and keep social workers in rural and remote communities.
Union official Doug Kinna said this new bonus is a step in the right direction.
“When they [province] do something right, that needs to be acknowledged,” he said. “This is a very good step forward.”
“Compensation is a factor, but there are also issues of not backfilling when someone is away and lack of training when social workers are in remote communities,” he continued.
In addition to these annual payments, Kinna said the province has committed itself to reviewing the regular pay for social workers, something that will take place next spring.
“That was another recommendation in the Plecas report,” said Kinna. “Nationally, social workers here are 11 per cent behind in compensation.”
Kinna explained that, in the past, the province had financial programs which essentially drew a line on the map to recognize hiring and retention issues in the more northerly portions of the province.
“When that ended, people started to leave,” said Kinna.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development issued a statement to Lakes District News saying the ministry has taken a number of steps to manage service levels in remote communities. These include assigning staff through a provincial float, temporary assignments and loans of staff from other service delivery areas, as well as ongoing recruitment of staff through position-specific and provincial postings.
“B.C. social workers perform an incredible service on behalf of vulnerable children and families, and the new incentive program is one step we’ve taken to recognize their efforts,” said the ministry. “Ideally, these payments will encourage staff to stay in these communities for a longer period of time, which should also lead to a reduction in costs associated with temporary staffing measures.”
Aside from Burns Lake, the list of communities in which payments will be made includes Bella Coola, Waglisla/Bella Bella, Terrace, Golden, Invermere, Nakusp, Fort St. James, Mackenzie, McBride, Vanderhoof, Chetwynd, Fort Nelson, Port Hardy, Dease Lake, Hazelton, Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte, Smithers, Terrace, Princeton, 100 Mile House, Ashcroft, Clearwater, Lillooet, Merritt, Revelstoke and Williams Lake.
– With files from Rod Link