More front-line workers to receive COVID-19 'risk recognition' pay, as Manitoba expands eligibility
Benefit now goes to workers whose pre-tax pay is under $5,000 per month, including hotel, BIZ staff
The Manitoba government is expanding the number of workers eligible for a one-time pay bump due to the risks of working through the pandemic.
The $120-million "risk recognition" program will now include workers whose pay is under $5,000 per month before taxes, excluding overtime.
When the province announced details of the program earlier this month, the pool of money was limited to workers whose pay did not exceed $2,500 per month.
The province also announced Tuesday that people who work at hotels or with one of the city's business improvement zones — including staff who patrol, remove graffiti, clean streets, or distribute COVID-19 education material and personal protective equipment — are now eligible for the benefit.
"By increasing eligible positions and income limits, and excluding overtime earnings, we will ensure the program continues to support lower- to middle-income workers and recognizes those who may have otherwise worked themselves out of qualifying through overtime," Finance Minister Scott Fielding said in a news release Tuesday.
Risk exists regardless of pay: unions
When the initial program details were announced, labour groups argued the province was excluding workers who were subject to the same risks as their lower-income co-workers.
While the government has now expanded the criteria, the program still has its critics.
"The province continues to play around the edges of their so-called 'risk recognition program,' but it still leaves most allied health professionals waiting for meaningful recognition of the risks they have faced during this pandemic," Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, said in a statement Tuesday.
"It's yet another reminder that they've been working without a contract and with frozen wages for more than two, and in some cases three, years."
The union expects the majority of its members still won't be eligible.
Some health-care workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees have taken to social media in recent days, holding signs asking Premier Brian Pallister to recognize their role in Manitoba's pandemic response.
CUPE Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault said the government has opened up doors by expanding the eligibility, "but the criteria still cuts out people."
"They called it a recognition program, so [Pallister] really made a lot of people upset, [who said] that, 'I also go to work and I want to be recognized.'"
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union believes all front-line workers should be eligible, including employees like the conservation officers screening travellers at interprovincial borders.
"I strongly, verbally have come out and said ... anyone who has worked through this pandemic should be recognized for the fact that they've done it," MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said.
"It is not a paycheque. It is a recognition of work done."
The payment is available to essential workers who worked at least 200 hours — or would have, if they had not been required to self-isolate — from March 20 to May 29.
Workers can find out if they're eligible, or apply for the benefit, on the province's website.
The deadline to apply is June 29 at noon.