The BCGEU applauds the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction's (MSDPR) willingness to accept most of the recommendations of B.C.'s Ombudsperson Jay Chalke's special report Holding Pattern: Call Wait Times for Income and Disability Assistance.
"We're pleased that the new government has acknowledged the long-standing problems surrounding the MSDPR centralized phone line and is committed to addressing some of the underlying issues," said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith. "However, we believe that all of the Ombudsperson's recommendations should be implemented and we're hoping to meet with Minister Shane Simpson in the near future to discuss how we can work together to continue improving services for British Columbians and working conditions for our members."
This report, which investigates the long wait-times and restricted service of the ministry's centralized phone system, is the result of repeated complaints submitted by the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre on behalf of nine social service agencies across the province.
The complaint draws, in part, on the findings of the BCGEU's Choose Children report which outlines the concerns and experiences of frontline workers in the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation (MSDSI, as it used to be called under the BC Liberal government) as well as community based social services agencies. It says that child, youth and family workers face massive caseloads, severe staffing shortages, poorly designed service delivery and a lack of resources.
Workers at MSDPR have also voiced concerns to the BCGEU about the worsening of working conditions as a result of budget cuts, office closures and the centralized phone system. Workers are subjected to increased levels of stress and exposed to abuse by vulnerable clients who are no longer receiving adequate services.
This, combined with pay that is lower than the equivalent in other provinces, has also led to a low retention rate for Employment and Assistance Workers (EAW), which has made it difficult for the ministry to maintain appropriate staffing levels.
The Ombudsperson's report confirms problems the BCGEU has pointed out for years regarding the long wait times and inadequate service levels experienced by the province's most vulnerable people when calling into the ministry's centralized phone system.
In this report, the Ombudsperson made 9 recommendations for MSDPR to improve services. These recommendations include:
• Reporting wait time statistics to increase transparency on the ministry's progress in addressing this problem
• Hiring more EAWs to reduce wait times and provide adequate levels of service
• Phasing out the use of limited service techniques used to reduce the amount of time EAWs spend on each call, which resulted in reduced service levels for people seeking assistance
• Choose Children: A case for reinvesting in child, youth and family services in British Columbia
• Wait times for welfare phone line soar
• Service reductions at Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation prompt complaint to Ombudsperson