Manitoba

Manitoba will pay people $2,000 to get off COVID-19 benefits and go back to work

The Manitoba government will pay residents up to $2,000 if they go back to work and stop collecting federal COVID-19 benefits. 

'It's time to kick the CERB to the curb,' premier says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the new program is intended to ensure that 'people don't suffer financially when they go back to work.' (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The Manitoba government will pay residents up to $2,000 if they go back to work and stop collecting federal COVID-19 benefits. 

The province will give successful applicants to its new program an initial $500 payment, plus three payments of $500 each every two weeks over a six-week period. 

Applicants must work at least 30 hours per week to qualify for the first payment, and then declare they are still working in order to receive the next payments.

They must also be receiving and voluntarily stop payments from the Canadian emergency response benefit (CERB), Canadian emergency student benefit (CESB) or similar COVID-19-related support from Ottawa, the province said in a news release Tuesday. 

Premier Brian Pallister says he believes the CERB discourages people from working full-time because it limits how much one can work before losing it, and people would rather be back at work than benefiting from a government program. 

WATCH | Brian Pallister on why the program is aimed at CERB beneficiaries:

Manitoba will pay people $2,000 to get off COVID-19 benefits and go back to work. 0:26

But some business owners say just because people are receiving benefits doesn't mean they are not trying to find work.

Laxman Negi, who has owned Chili Chutney in Brandon, Man., for nine years, said he laid off about half a dozen staff when he closed the restaurant's 150-seat dining room in the spring. He said he's filled those positions since reopening at half capacity.

"There are people who are looking for jobs. We advertised jobs on the job bank, and we are getting lots of resumes, and I am able to hire lots of people actually," he said.

Negi said he has applied for provincial wage subsidies made available to assist private business owners and non-profits.

Instead of the new money announced on Tuesday, he wants help offsetting the costs of added sanitizing and cleaning measures, which he said has been the biggest burden of reopening.

"We were doing the sanitizing before but this time it's a little extra," he said.

Business owner Laxman Negi of Chili Chutney disagreed with Premier Brian Pallister's characterization that the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit discouraged people from looking for work. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

On the other hand, Renee Greyeyes, who runs Steps2Work, a non-profit that provides employment placement services, has hired two staff back who were on the CERB. One front-line worker is still off work collecting the benefit.

"My concern was that my employees are not going to want to come back and take what I pay them," she said.

Greyeyes hopes the new money will give all of her staff — who she said were making more money through the federal program than on her payroll — incentive to return to work.

Curbing it

Under the CERB, individuals cannot earn more than $1,000 for 14 or more consecutive days within the four-week benefit period of your claim.

"I think it's important to understand that over eight million Canadians are on the CERB program, and we've heard from many employers and employees that it's time to kick the CERB to the curb," Pallister said at a news conference.

Close to 8.5 million Canadians had received payments through the CERB as of June 4, costing the federal government $43.51 billion.

A new report from the parliamentary budget officer says the eight-week CERB extension announced last week will cost $17.9 billion.

"Our program is designed so that people don't suffer financially when they go back to work. I think that's a good, common sense way to make sure that we're not punishing people for trying to work more than half-time." 

Asked if he had any statistics to show that people were unhappy with the CERB, or that it was preventing people from going back to work, Pallister said some statistics out of the Parliamentary Budget Office suggest as many as 6.5 per cent of people are unwilling to go back to work. 

WATCH | 'It's time to kick the CERB to the curb,' premier says:

Premier Brian Pallister says he believes the CERB discourages people from working full-time because it limits how much one can work before losing it, and people would rather be back at work than benefiting from a government program. 2:34

But he said Manitoba is in a different position than other provinces because it has been able to restart its economy more quickly due to low case numbers.

 Pallister did not say how much his government was prepared to spend on the program.

In an emailed statement, Manitoba Opposition Leader Wab Kinew accused the premier of shaming people on the CERB into going back to jobs that don't exist, after making hundreds of millions in cuts to Manitoba's public sector, "and [leaving] businesses to fend for themselves with no support during the pandemic."

"He's not interested in actually helping families or businesses, he just wants to look like he is," Kinew said in the email.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also said the new program will do little to help the province's economy, and doesn't address part-time workers. 

"The PCs are baselessly attacking CERB, when this is the program that actually helped Canadians through the pandemic while the Pallister government was missing in action," he said in an emailed statement.

'Carrot that's being dangled'

Prof. David Camfield, who teaches labour studies at the University of Manitoba, said only workers in the lowest paid jobs earn more income from the CERB, and the province's alternative does not address "crummy" working conditions or health and safety concerns.

"It's kind of a carrot that's being dangled to attract people to bad jobs," Camfield said.

He said he is skeptical the province's promise will entice people to opt out of the federal program and return to work.

Applications for the Manitoba job restart program will open June 26 and be accepted until July 31. 

WATCH | Pallister on COVID-19 measures in the province | June 23, 2020:

The provincial government will pay Manitobans up to $2,000 if they go back to work and agree to stop collecting CERB or CESB payments, Premier Brian Pallister says. 35:53

With files from Riley Laychuk and The Canadian Press

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