Governments paying $465 to critical workers – critics say too late and too much

by Stephen Dafoe

Alberta’s Government announced Tuesday 380,000 public and private sector workers would receive $1200 each in recognition of their hard work and sacrifice. The $465 million is a joint federal and provincial program, with the Government of Alberta contributing $118 million. 

The $465 million , a joint federal and provincial program, will be available to workers in the health-care, social services, education and private sectors who deliver critical services to Albertans or support food and medical supply chains.

“These workers have placed themselves at the front line of this pandemic in order to serve their fellow citizens during a crisis,” said Premier Jason Kenney. “Alberta’s Government is recognizing their good work. We trust this support will help these workers continue to protect lives and livelihoods as we keep fighting this pandemic together.”

Eligibility requires 300 hours of work between Oct. 12, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021, roughly 20 hours per week. 

Approximately 161,000 workers in the health-care sector, including orderlies and patient service associates, respiratory therapists and technologists, nurses (RNs, RPNs, LPNs), food services, housekeeping and maintenance workers and unit clerks, will receive the payments. 

Another roughly 45,000 in the social services sector, including community disability service workers and practitioners, personal care aides, child development workers, family and youth counsellors, crisis intervention and shelter workers, home support workers, seniors lodge staff, cleaners, food preparation and maintenance workers, will also receive the $1200. 

Government estimates another 36,000 workers in the education sector, including teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cleaning staff, and administration support, will be eligible. 

Private sector workers making $25 or less will qualify for the benefit. This includes critical retail, community disability service workers and practitioners, personal care aides, child development workers, family and youth counsellors, crisis intervention and shelter workers, home support workers, seniors lodge staff, cleaners, food preparation and maintenance workers. Those working in grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations; private health provider workers, dental assistants, massage therapists and medical administration assistants; food manufacturing and processing workers; truck transportation workers; and warehouse and storage workers will also qualify.

NDP critical of eight-month delay

Alberta’s Opposition NDP, who have been calling on the UCP to act on the funding, said the UCP government’s eight-month delay in accessing the federal wage top-up had harmed Alberta’s economic recovery. 

“Jason Kenney’s delay in accessing this federal funding comes too late. It was another instance, like the deal with KXL and rescinding Lougheed’s Coal Policy, where Jason Kenney showed terrible instincts and made the wrong choices,” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “In this case, the delay in getting these federal dollars has hurt Albertans while they grappled with the second wave of the pandemic.”

Gray went on to say the funding announcement was a smokescreen for coming public sector wage rollbacks in the 2021 budget, set to be tabled Feb. 25 when the Legislature resumes. 

“I am deeply concerned that today’s announcement is just a smokescreen by this Premier,” Gray said. “Jason Kenney has already committed to laying off 11,000 front line health care workers after the pandemic ends. It’s $1,200 for Albertans today, and a pink slip tomorrow.” 

CTF says cut taxes instead

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says businesses, not taxpayers, should be funding the wage top-ups.

“We’re thankful for the hard work and important services these Albertans are providing, but businesses should be paying the wage top-ups, not struggling taxpayers,” said the CTF’s Alberta Director Franco Terrazzano. “Many of these businesses have been able to stay open throughout much of the pandemic, and struggling Albertans shouldn’t be forced to pay higher taxes to cover this payout.”

Rather than providing $170 million to select private-sector employees, the CTF says the province should provide tax relief that supports all struggling businesses.

“It’s one thing to help struggling restaurants and gyms keep their lights on through government-imposed lockdowns, but this announcement is covering the costs of many businesses who have been able to stay open,” Terrazzano said. “The Alberta government was on the right track to help job creators by lowering the business tax rate, and it should expand that help by cutting the small business tax.”

Private-sector employers have until Mar. 19 to apply on behalf of their employees at alberta.ca/criticalworkerbenefit. Employers will be responsible for distributing the $1,200 Critical Worker Benefit to their eligible employees.

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