Wage subsidy program encourages Manitoba employers to hire vaccinated workers
'Still some question' about companies asking workers for health information, Chamber of Commerce says
Manitoba's government announced a new program Thursday that will offer local businesses up to $50,000 to help pay the wages of newly hired or rehired employees who have either received a COVID-19 vaccine or who pledge to get one.
The Healthy Hire Manitoba program will cover 50 per cent of wages for a maximum of 10 employees at each business, non-profit organization or registered charity, up to a maximum of $5,000 per employee. The province has set aside a total of $30 million for the program.
"As a government we're doing everything we can to encourage Manitobans to roll up their sleeves — not once, but twice," Premier Brian Pallister said at a news conference announcing the program.
"It's our goal that this new Healthy Hire Manitoba program will also assist in incentivizing employers to safely bring more employees back to work and encourage more Manitobans get fully vaccinated."
To qualify for the program, employees do not have to be fully vaccinated.
WATCH | Manitoba premier announces wage subsidy program encouraging vaccination:
The program will cover pay periods for employees hired on or after June 10, with the last pay period ending Oct. 15.
Businesses and organizations already receiving wage supports from the province will be able to apply for the new program. However, wages for employees hired before June 10 won't qualify for the subsidy.
"The businesses that have been able to stay fully open — there are a few — are not qualified for this program because of the fact that they haven't been as affected by the restrictions," Pallister said.
As the province begins to loosen COVID-19 pandemic restrictions — with capacity at most businesses increasing from 10 per cent to 25 per cent starting this Saturday — there is an opportunity for them to hire more employees back, he said.
More information on the program's eligibility criteria will be released next week.
Clarity needed on asking for health information: chamber
When asked what penalties might apply if an employee doesn't follow through on their pledge to get a vaccine, Pallister said the program would operate on trust.
"We're asking people to give their word, so we're hoping that they're honest people. And I think in the vast, vast majority of cases, Manitobans are honest people," he said.
"We've run our programs on that basis. We've got enough to do making sure that people follow the health orders right now, to be frank."
Pallister said he hopes the program will encourage people in areas with low uptake to get the vaccine. As of Thursday, the province will have reached 72 per cent of eligible people with at least one dose, and 31 per cent with two doses.
The president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said the program is a positive step for the province to take.
That said, Loren Remillard also hopes to see a recognition of Manitoba businesses that worked to keep staff on the payroll through the pandemic despite tough economic times.
The program also won't apply to companies that were forced to cut workers' hours down and will now work to hike them up to normal levels, he said.
One major issue needing clarification, Remillard said, is companies understanding their rights and responsibilities when asking employees about their vaccination status, which is personal health information.
He wonders if companies can require them to share it.
"We assume the province has received legal opinion saying it's permissible, but there's still some question ... no employer wants to put themselves in a situation that may open themselves to legal repercussions," Remillard said.
'Not sure if it changes anybody's mind'
He said he also wants the province and federal governments to recognize the need for subsidies will still be there past late September, when two major federal programs — the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy — are scheduled to end.
Businesses will still be in a precarious place, Remillard said.
"We want to ensure the investments we've made to date are fully realized.... We need to seriously push that September deadline to the end of the calendar year," he said.
It's not clear if the Healthy Hire program will help increase vaccination rates in areas of the province where vaccine uptake has been low, such as the city of Winkler and the surrounding rural municipality of Stanley.
The president of the Winkler and District Chamber of Commerce said he doesn't believe the program will have much of an impact on that front.
"I'm not sure if it changes anybody's mind if they're unsure about being vaccinated, unless they're having trouble getting a job right now," Keith Gislason said.
WATCH | Brian Pallister speaks on wage subsidy program:
- An earlier version of this article said the president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce wanted to see the Canada emergency recovery benefit continued. In fact, the correct name of the program is the Canada emergency wage subsidy.Jun 25, 2021 2:40 PM CT