Kitchener-Waterloo

Hospital workers still waiting for pandemic pay promised in April

Health-care workers in local hospitals are still waiting for their pandemic pay, more than two months after the program was first announced.

Grand River Hospital delaying paying staff, unsure if amount provided by province will cover costs

A vice-president at Grand River Hospital says communication with the province on its pandemic pay program has led to "more questions than answers," according to an internal memo obtained by CBC News. (CBC)

Health-care workers in local hospitals are still waiting for their pandemic pay, more than two months after the province promised it for the "dedication and sacrifice" of front-line workers.

Officials at Grand River Hospital have told employees they can't start paying workers until they get more clarity from the province on how to do it, according to a memo obtained by CBC News.

The pandemic pay program was first announced at the end of April. Eligible front-line workers can get a boost of $4 on top of their hourly wage, and the opportunity to earn a lump sum payment if they work a certain number of hours.  

According to the province's website, employers in the health-care sector were supposed to begin receiving their agreements from the province during the week of June 8, with funding starting to roll out the week of June 29.

When that money makes its way to workers depends on the employer, the website said.    

But according to an internal memo obtained by CBC News, officials at Grand River Hospital are delayed in paying staff because they aren't sure if the money provided by the province will be enough.

"Earlier this month I communicated my hope to have pandemic pay paid out by the end of June, and I understand the frustration and disappointment many of you are feeling as we enter another month," wrote the hospital's vice-president of human resources, in a memo dated June 26.

"We are working to get this paid out as soon as possible."

'More questions than answers'

The memo noted that a letter from the Ministry left officials with "more questions than answers." The hospital is set to receive approximately $5.9 million for the program, the memo said.

"Although this might seem like a significant amount of money, these funds must cover not only GRH employees but also any agencies and contracted staff we have in the organization," it said. 

"We cannot proceed with paying staff without clarity on who and how much we need to pay, because we cannot recuperate these costs should we overpay."

Neither St. Mary's General Hospital nor Cambridge Memorial Hospital has started paying staff the pandemic pay either, the hospitals confirmed. 

In response to questions from CBC News, a joint statement from the three hospitals noted they are "still working through the details and funding allocation for pandemic pay."

"We are working closely with our partners at the Ministry of Health and Ontario Health, and following the provincial guidance, which specifically details how the funds will be used," the statement said.

A registered nurse is pictured giving a nasal swab test. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Detracts from gesture, says union 

For Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses' Association, the announcement of the pandemic pay program was an acknowledgement of the risks that nurses and other workers are facing.

But the length of time it's taken to see the funds roll out has detracted from the good faith gesture, she said.

"It's quite shocking, to be honest, that it's taken this long, and it seems to still not be clear or sorted out," said McKenna.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the province said staff are working to move funds to employers as quickly as possible.

"[We] are expediting the work required to get this money into the pay cheques of eligible employees across the province," said the statement from Sebastian Skamski, press secretary for the Office of the President of the Treasury Board.

Pay from the program will be provided retroactively for work performed from April 24, 2020 to August 13, 2020, he said, and all those who are eligible will get it.  

Previous criticism

In mid-June, the Canadian Press reported that hundreds of thousands of workers were still awaiting their pandemic pay.

In response to questions from CBC News, the province said it couldn't provide an up-to-date number of workers who've received their payment, due to the variability of employers' payroll systems.

The timing of payment also depends on the particular ministry involved and if a given workplace had a pre-existing funding relationship with the province, the spokesperson said in a statement.

The pandemic pay program was also previously criticized by those who say the list of eligible workers is too narrow. When it was first announced, the program included about 350,000 workers but left off certain front-line workers such as paramedics and respiratory therapists.

The program has now been expanded to include 375,000 employees across 2,000 employers, although calls have continued to further expand the list of eligible workers. 

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