Blog Post

Wages and salaries in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving Sector - where next?

By: Marco Campana
September 5, 2022

Today is Labour Day. A good day to reflect on wages, salaries, and working conditions in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving Sector.

Where are we at?

The bottom line is that front line sector work is underpaid and undervalued. That's well documented in years of research. In this post I'm going to focus on what we know about salaries from sector salary surveys.

In The Competencies of Frontline Settlement Practitioners in Canada – a background research report (2018) the authors wrote the "Maximum salary levels for settlement counsellors ranged from $46,000 to $52,000 per year. Retention was identified as an obstacle given low wages generally in the sector. Additionally, most settlement counsellors were satisfied to remain in the role and did not aspire to higher positions within the field. However, those interested in career progression found that accessing the training they need for leadership positions is a barrier."

A quick look at the Ontario-based Settlement At Work site's job postings suggests that, where salaries are provided, these numbers haven't changed very much.

  • Employment specialist with fluency in Tigrigna, Arabic, or Dari - salary range from $49,900.50 - $60,996
  • RAP Support Person who supports the smooth operation of the Centre, which includes responding to emergencies; de-escalates non-violent crises, e.g. client altercation, family conflicts, etc. - $39,843 - $42,881
  • Housing Counsellor - $47,790 to $51,435
  • Settlement Counsellor – Mental Health - provide information, referral, orientation and counselling services to meet the mental health and wellness needs of newcomers; such as accessing health care, mental health/wellness supports, housing, education, legal and social services - $47,101.60
  • Settlement Worker - Tamil Speaking - facilitate Orientation to Ontario workshops series, conversational English classes, and drop-in skill-building & community connections programs with youth, adults and families - $41,500
  • Employer Liaison, Healthcare Connections - responsible for the creation of employment opportunities for IEHP clients in the program - $54,467.55

Specialized skills, including language and a wide range of professional abilities and expectations. Most of these jobs are in the Toronto area. In 2021, a living wage in Toronto was considered $40,185.60 ($22.08/hour for a 35 hour week)...

The authors of the report believe the complex challenges of settlement will require government funders, educational institutions and settlement providers themselves to support training that develops these competencies and carves out career paths in the sector. Given the critical role settlement counsellors play in improving integration for newcomers, increasing the capacity of welcoming communities and enhancing public support for immigration, the value of the services provided by these workers will only continue to rise as immigration levels grow.

The value of services continues to grow. How can we value the workers themselves?

In 2018, CISSA -ACSEI and the Ontario Council of Agencies Service Immigrants (OCASI) released the Settlement Sector National Compensation Survey Report: Where Next? (2018). This report provides a snapshot of the current wage and benefit situation within not-for-profit service providers receiving IRCC funding in 2018. The findings reflect significant wage and benefit variations for similar type positions in different size communities and regions funded by IRCC.

The report provides detailed salary ranges for a number of front line and executive/management positions in the sector:

CISSA -ACSEI sector compenstation report - wage range table

Note the ranges, some of which would not be considered living wages in many cities.

Among recommendations, the authors suggest that:

  • IRCC should explore the establishment of national minimum wage rate and benefit guidelines for common sector positions / not for profit employers.
  • IRCC explore the development of a consistent approach to salary and benefits increase requests by individual agencies, ensuring clarity amongst contract officers and consistency among regions.
  • IRCC consider the establishment of a national funding mechanism that can be considered within the Dept to fund compensation improvements without having to adversely decrease services.

In 2019, OCASI conducted an Ontario sector survey with the following results:

OCASI salary survey infographic

OCASI followed this up with a survey in 2021, captured in this presentation:

Among other information presented were changes in wages for various roles:

OCASI Salary Survey Explained - hourly wages

They also illustrate differences in salaries in different urban centres, as well as between rural and urban centres.

We know as the sector continues to move towards hybrid service delivery that not only will the expected skill set of front line workers continue to grow, but new & emerging professional roles are emerging in Settlement service delivery. Many of these roles have salary expectations that exceed standard salaries in the sector.

As the CISSA-ACSEI/OCASI report asks, where does the sector go next with a woefully undervalued workforce who will continue to be expected to have a wide variety of specialized and exceptional skills?

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