British Columbia

Promised pandemic pay still pending for some front-line workers in B.C.

The provincial government promised in May to pay more than 250,000 health and social service workers a lump sum for a 16-week period that started in March. But with Christmas just around the corner, many are still waiting.

Province committed to pay 250,000 workers a lump sum for a 16-week period, but many are still waiting

A health-care worker is pictured with a senior at Tabor Home assisted living centre in Abbotsford, B.C., in November. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

After months of waiting, some B.C. front-line workers are still wondering when they are going to see a pandemic pay boost promised by the provincial government.

In May, the finance ministry announced more than 250,000 eligible workers who provide front-line, in-person services in places like hospitals, jails, and long-term and assisted-living facilities would receive the lump-sum payment, worth about $4 per hour for a 16-week period starting March 15.

In October, in response to frustrated workers who had yet to be paid, the premier's office issued a statement saying it was "confident" funding would begin flowing to employees by October.

But now, with Christmas just around the corner, confidence is waning among those still waiting.

The B.C. government announced pandemic pay would be coming to 250,000 front-line workers in May. The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union says at least 20,000 of its members are still waiting. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"It's just really disappointing for us," Donna McColl, housekeeper at North Island Hospital Comox Valley, told CHEK News.

McColl removes bio waste and garbage to keep the hospital running safely and has not received her promised additional compensation.

Workers at Nanaimo and Victoria General Hospitals, as well as long-term care aides, also told CHEK they have not received the promised top up.

Haves and have-nots

Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, told CBC News that the discrepancy for care aides in terms of who has been paid already and who has not is due to who their respective employers are.

According to Lake, care aides working in long-term care facilities directly owned and operated by a health authority have received their top-up pay, but people employed by a third party that is contracted to a health authority have not.

This, he said, is because those contracted operators need to each apply separately to the Ministry of Finance and be adjudicated on their eligibility.

According to the CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, if a care aide works in a long-term care facility that is not directly owned and operated by a provincial health authority then it is a lengthier administrative process for their employer to access the province's pandemic pay. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"It's taking a lot of time," said Lake. "We certainly would support the definition of eligibility based on the work you're doing, rather than who it is for."

Lake said not only are the inequities causing hardship for hardworking front-line workers, it is also causing industry turn- over as some long-term care employers look for "greener pastures" in which to work.

Paul Finch, treasurer of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU), told CBC on Monday he estimates 20,000 of the union's 80,000 members are among those unpaid.

BCGEU members include health care and community social service workers.

Finch described the way payment is handled: The province receives payroll data from employers, verifies it and then sends funds to the employer to pay their employees.

"We don't understand why it would take six months, or more than six months, to deliver on that model," said Finch, adding he would like the province to be more forthcoming about its reasons for the delay.

He said waiting for the money is hard on members' mental health after having already put themselves in harm's way for months. Many, he said, have been counting on that pay for Christmas.

"It's going to make for a very difficult holiday season," said Finch.

The BCGEU wants to see eligibility for pandemic pay expanded to the lowest paid essential workers at liquor and cannabis stores, as well as those working in childcare. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Finch is also concerned for BCGEU members who were not eligible to receive the money at all despite being very much on the front-lines, such as liquor and cannabis retail employees and those working in childcare.

Finch said they are among the lowest paid essential workers and the exclusion is an upset he hopes the province will reconsider.

A full list of eligible workplaces is available online.

CBC has contacted the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health for comment but has yet to receive a response.

To hear an anonymous care aide speak to CBC's The Early Edition about the toll waiting for pandemic pay is taking on them, tap the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition, Yvette Brend