Are you an essential worker? In Canada, it depends on where you live



Ontario has the largest program in the country for essential workers with more than 375,000 workers getting a $4 per hour boost. Along with that, anyone working more than 100 hours in a month receives another $250.

OTTAWA – Just how essential you are and how much of a federal government bonus you receive for your hard work during the pandemic depends entirely on what province you live in.

The program, announced in early May, was meant to provide top-up pay to essential workers, with the federal government putting $3 billion on the table and asking the provinces to chip in as well.

“We’re relying on these workers now more than ever and we will be there to support them,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he announced the program. “If you’re risking your health to keep this country moving and you’re making minimum wage, you deserve a raise.”

They may deserve it, but not all workers are getting it.

The federal government’s pay raise is being paid out differently in every part of the country. Meanwhile, some of the provinces are providing top ups — but not all. It means some essential workers could receive an extra $1,000, while others in another province may qualify for almost $4,000. And while all provinces label healthcare workers as essential, some have extended the designation to include people like grocery store cashiers.

Alberta, for instance, is currently funding its program without a federal top-up.

Tom McMillan, a spokesperson for Alberta’s Health ministry, said they are providing a $2 per hour boost to about 7,000 health care aides at continuing care facilities across the province.

“Our wage top-up addresses the key pressure on the workforce in contracted continuing care facilities during COVID-19. Health care aides provide the majority of hands-on care to residents and with the requirement to have everyone working at a single site, it was critical to retain these workers,” he said.

“Our government is working with the federal government regarding the federal wage top-up program to determine whether this might be offset.”

Quebec launched its program before the federal government’s funding was announced. The province gave a four per cent raise to more than 250,000 health and social service workers, with another four per cent on top of that for 55,000 workers in areas where they are likely to be exposed to the virus, like intensive care units.

In total as of June 30, the province has paid out more than $500 million to workers. A federal government source said Quebec was being compensated by Ottawa, but could not provide the exact amount.

Announcing the program, Trudeau said provinces would decide whether to cover non-medical staff like delivery drivers and grocery store workers.

But only a few provinces are providing support to people outside of the healthcare system including Manitoba. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

“Manitoba’s program continues to reflect the federal government’s intention of this cost-sharing program to recognize low-income Canadian workers who risked their own health to provide crucial services,” said the province’s Finance Minister Scott Fielding.

The province’s program is welcoming applicants from health care workers, grocery store cashiers and a wide array of businesses and will distribute the $120 million in the program equally to all qualified applicants.

Newfoundland is also allowing a wide pool of workers as well, and believes it will cover about 20 per cent of program’s cost, but has just started accepting applications this month.

PEI cast a wide net with its program covering healthcare, retail, emergency workers and other fields, who can expect a $1,000 top up, but they have to be making less than $3,000 per month to qualify.

Both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are using only their federal funding for the program with no provincial dollars involved.

As of last week, PEI had received 8,258 applications for the payments which should be rolled out to workers soon and they expect the $16.7 million the federal government provided will completely cover the cost.

New Brunswick is offering $2,000 to workers in child-care facilities, shelters, and care homes, with a total of 15,175 people set to receive the money soon and the federal government will foot the entire bill.

Saskatchewan’s program is covered mostly by the federal government with the province contributing five per cent of the costs. The province decided who is eligible based on where they work with anyone employed in seniors homes, child care facilities or shelters getting $400 per month in additional pay.

British Columbia’s program is expected to cover 250,000 healthcare workers in a variety of roles giving them all a $4 per hour raise and the province is chipping in 26 per cent of the costs.

Ontario has the largest program in the country for essential workers with more 375,000 workers getting a $4 per hour boost, plus anyone working more than 100 hours in a month receives another $250. For an average worker that could amount to $3,560 on top of their usual wage.

The province received $1.5 billion from the federal government and intends to use provincial money as well, but the exact amount has not yet been determined.

“Ontario is one of the first provinces to roll out pandemic pay, which is the largest program of its kind in the country and unprecedented in the province’s history,” said Sebastian Skamski, press secretary for Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy.

In Ontario as in many provinces, the program is still rolling through payroll systems, so many workers don’t yet have the cash in hand. Skamski said there are more than 2,000 employers involved, which makes it a challenge to get the money to those on the frontline.

“We are moving funds to employers as quickly as possible and are expediting the work required to get this money into the pay cheques of eligible employees across the province.”

The federal department of finance said the program was specifically designed to give provinces the decision on who got what.

“Provincial and Territorial governments are responsible for the design and delivery of their programs, including determining which essential workers will qualify, how much they will receive and when they will receive the support.”

The department said $2.1 billion has already been sent to the provinces and they’re continuing to work with others to get the money out the door.

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