Bonus question: Which workers should get a share of Manitoba's $120M 'risk payment' fund?
Government hears call to limit eligible workers to those on low end of pay scale
Some Manitoba labour groups say they cannot decide which front-line workers are deserving of a bump in pay and which ones aren't.
The provincial government is leaning on the advice of labour and business groups as it doles out $120 million of pandemic bonus money.
It's a challenging task, union leaders say.
"Our position was that all of those workers should qualify, whether they're public or private, whether they work in a grocery store or hospital," said Jeff Traeger, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832.
"They all deserve recognition for what they're doing for all of us right now."
The province agreed to join the federal government in providing a one-time "risk payment" to those on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. Manitoba will divvy up $120 million — three-quarters of the money coming from the federal government's coffers, and the rest from the province.
Payout should be 'meaningful'
Ottawa is asking provinces and territories to choose which essential workers are worthy, but there's only so much money to go around.
"If you give it to every single front-line worker and they all get three dollars then all you've done is buy everybody a coffee, right?" Traeger said. "It has to be something a little bit more meaningful than that."
He suggests Manitoba should prioritize the workers who make the least.
Among UFCW Local 832's membership, private security guards and assisted-living support workers are working the pandemic at wages close to the minimum. They're not getting the pandemic perk that grocery chains are offering their workers, Traeger said.
The bonus could be in the $500 to $1,000 range, he said.
"We think there needs to be a new future," Traeger said. "People coming out of this [pandemic] are recognized better and are provided with a wage that at least allows them to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their family."
Lee McLeod, the Canadian Union of Public Employees' regional director in Manitoba, said choosing who is deserving of a wage supplement is pitting groups of workers against each other.
Health-care employees "obviously come to mind" as worthy of extra pay, but he said every front-line worker is deserving, ranging from people working with vulnerable adults to home-care employees.
McLeod called the one-time payment a nice gesture, but said it doesn't make up for the sustained higher wages these front-line employees warrant.
On a Thursday conference call with government, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Lorne Remillard pushed for employees from private businesses and social agencies to be eligible, he said.
"It's a difficult conversation because you're not trying to indicate one value of a certain position or sector above and beyond anyone else," Remillard said.
He felt there was strong consensus during the call to target the cash toward low-income workers.
The province is describing the $120-million program as a "risk recognition benefit."
Daycare workers would fit that requirement, said Tracy Cosser, president of the Manitoba Child Care Association. They cannot physically distance themselves from the children they care for, and their parents are often the essential workers most at risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Cosser was encouraged to hear a number of speakers on the conference call advocate for her field of work.
"I was very pleased and pleasantly surprised," she said.
The Manitoba Nurses Union saw the one-time payment as a chance to be recognized by government.
Not about the cash for nurses
President Darlene Jackson said nurses have felt undervalued by the higher-ups on Broadway Avenue. They aren't consulted over staffing issues affecting their jobs, and their wages have been frozen for three years, she said.
All front-line workers deserve recognition, including nurses, Jackson said.
"For nurses, this is more of a sign of acknowledgement, a sign of respect from this government than it is about the money."
One group of front-line workers has told the government they don't need the extra money. The United Firefighters of Winnipeg said in a letter their members are already compensated for dangerous work.
The Manitoba government expects to present Ottawa with their wage top-up proposal next week.
Saskatchewan has vowed a $400 monthly supplement for 16 weeks for low-income earners who work with vulnerable people. In Prince Edward Island, the wages of essential workers will be boosted by a flat $1,000 payment.