Posted on Feb 16, 2021
NDP ARGUES FOR BETTER RULES, CLARITY & CONSULTATION AFTER UCP BUNGLES CRITICAL WORKERS BENEFIT ROLLOUT
EDMONTON - Alberta’s NDP is calling for a major overhaul and further consultation on the long-delayed Critical Workers Benefit, which offers up funding a mix of federal and provincial funding to support frontline heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jason Kenney and the UCP sat on their hands for more than 250 days, refusing to give frontline workers the hundreds of millions in federal funding that was intended for them. This money was supposed to be a sign of support as they put their lives on the line and kept essential services running during the pandemic.” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “Now, since they introduced the program last Wednesday, our inboxes have been flooded with stories from workers who don’t qualify, who aren’t sure if they qualify and who are wondering why this Government continues to ignore them.”
To be eligible for the benefit, workers must have logged at least 300 hours on the job between Oct. 12 and Jan. 31. The window of time and number of hours has caused confusion for many groups on whether workers who were in isolation would lose out on the benefit if their hours dipped below the minimum requirement. The 300-hour threshold to qualify is the steepest in the country — Manitoba requires 100 hours of work during the pandemic, for example. The NDP believes this threshold should be lowered.
The program was announced by the federal government in early 2020, and was designed to compensate essential workers for the risks they took by reporting to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the time-frame set out by the UCP, only accounts for eligibility during the second wave, leaving many workers unsupported for many months of stress they took on in the early days of the pandemic. The NDP believes the qualification window should be extended.
Other provinces started distributing the money to their frontline workers as early as June 2020. In British Columbia, more than 200,000 workers have already received top-up pay.
As well, the NDP has received hundreds of emails and messages to date from workers inquiring about whether they will qualify for the $1,200 in funding that the program offers.
“The number of working groups ignored by the UCP in this program is staggering.” said NDP Labour Critic, Christina Gray. “Right away we saw huge flaws in how Jason Kenney presented this program. Not only on the massive delay compared to other provinces, but with the eligibility window and the groups. We are seeing that substitute teachers, correctional officers, restaurant workers, dental assistants, bus drivers, EMS workers and many, many more groups do not qualify.
“The UCP said they wanted to take a ‘thoughtful and measured approach’ to the program, but they did not consult with any labour groups. How does announcing a program that clearly doesn’t work for hundreds of thousands of essential workers translate to being thoughtful?” Gray added.
Ahead of the program details to be announced, the NDP are calling on the UCP to:
- Lower 300-hour qualifying threshold.
- Extend qualification period to include the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Provide a clear list of who qualifies for benefit and consult with labour organizations to ensure that list is complete.
- Provide transparent rationale for worker groups that are not eligible.
- Remove the reliance on employers so employees can apply directly.
“Workers should not have to go begging with their hands out for this support,” Gray said. “It’s demeaning and not reflective of the debt we owe them for the work they did in unimaginable and unprecedented circumstances.
“The Government must fix this, they must get this program right. It will put money back into our economy, it will improve morale among workers — frankly, it’s imperative to our economic recovery.”