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Personal support worker Brandy Marlatt, sits in her Windsor, Ontario home August 9, 2015. The Ontario government has recently moved to cap salaries of personal support workers at $19 per hour.GEOFF ROBINS/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government is rolling out the second instalment of a long-promised raise for personal support workers as part of its home-care reforms, but new rules that cap hourly rates mean some workers who were counting on the extra money are discovering they no longer qualify.

The bad news – delivered in memos to many workers for the first time this month – is the latest complication to beset a program that was hailed as a victory for the home-care sector when it was announced by the Liberal government in the lead up to last year's provincial vote. The government has faced multiple hurdles to implementing what should have been a welcome measure – directing an extra $4 an hour over three years to front-line workers. Instead, it has scrambled to fix problems identified by employers and the very unions that had pushed for the raise, delaying this year's $1.50 increase from April 1 until this month.

Now its efforts to fix those mistakes has created a new group of winners and losers and is adding further complications to a program employers describe as an "administrative nightmare."

Some personal support workers who missed out under the original rules, such as those who work in day programs, will get the increase. But a new wage cap – outlined in a ministry memo in June and first reported by The Globe and Mail – means anyone making more than $19 an hour no longer qualifies for the wage bump this year or next.

"We were all counting on that. A lot of people had it spent already," said Brandy Marlatt, a personal support worker in Windsor and one of about 300 staff at Assisted Living Southwestern Ontario who came to work last week to discover they would not be getting the raise, or the months of retroactive pay.

Ms. Marlatt said she and other long-time employees are frustrated that under the new wage plan they will be making roughly the same as a new employee who qualifies for the increase. "Seniority pretty much means nothing now," she said.

Asked about the timing of the news, a spokesman for Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the ministry provided funds for the raise to the province's local health networks earlier this summer, which then worked with providers to determine which of their staff were eligible. "Our expectation is that individual service providers would communicate those decisions with their respective staffs," the spokesman said in a statement.

Lynn Calder, executive director for the Windsor non-profit agency, said she first read about the cap in The Globe, but only received official word last month.

She wonders how she will recruit and retain staff when they can make $4 an hour more at a long-term care home and says freezes to other funding means the agency has no money to offer increases to the affected employees.

Last year's raise was welcome recognition, she said, of the work the agency's staff does to keep people at home and out of expensive hospital and long-term care beds. The new wage cap, she said, "has felt like a real smack down for them."

The government's aim was just the opposite.

Personal support workers deliver more than half of all home-care services, helping clients to dress, bathe, prepare meals, tidy up and manage medications, among other tasks. Yet their paycheques traditionally are smaller and their schedules more erratic than those of PSWs who work in hospitals and nursing homes. The government move was designed to address that.

Rather than simply raising their minimum wage to $16.50 an hour from $12.50, the government also introduced a $4-an-hour "wage enhancement" to most PSWs, regardless of their base salary. It was not long before the ministry discovered that some PSWs were earning more than the new minimum.

A Globe and Mail investigation also found the original rules missed some PSWs and 27 mostly non-profit health-care agencies were refusing to accept the government-funded increase and pass it on to their workers because of difficulties with administering the program.

As well, some agencies, mostly non-profits that were already paying PSWs well above the minimum wage, complained that the raise meant they would be making as much as supervisors.

The raise also was more expensive than expected – $77.8-million in 2014-15, 56 per cent more than the $50-million earmarked for the first year of the program.

"It started out as a good intention," said Elizabeth Forestell, head of The Neighbourhood Group, a Toronto non-profit that employs about 200 PSWs affected by the provincial program. "I don't want to dismiss the thought that went into this. Sometimes these things sound good until you bake the cake."

Adding to the confusion is the way the raise is being implemented by the province. The "wage enhancement" applies only to hours when PSWs are with clients. Vacation time, travel time, sick time and training hours do not qualify for the higher rate.

Ms. Marlatt, the PSW in Windsor, for example, still has a base wage of $17.51 an hour, but she received a $1.50 "wage enhancement" last year, which when added in puts her over the $19 threshold.

Keeping track of when workers qualify for the higher rate and when they do not creates an added burden, employers say, as well as added costs.

"Everyone is overwhelmed by the administrative craziness of it," said Ms. Forestell in Toronto. The highest paid PSWs at her agency will get almost all of this year's increase, but will then hit the $19 cap. "It is not much of a fix," she said of the changes. "It's no fix at all."