Missing federal lockdown assistance a Sask. government failing: critics

Saskatchewan remains the only region in Canada without access to the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, which creates some problems for employees.

Without gathering restrictions, Sask. workers ineligible for financial aid

This illustrative photo is of a Montreal server cleans tables at an empty pub. Saskatchewan is the only province where workers are ineligible for the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, which has some people concerned. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan remains the only province or territory ineligible for the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, cutting off workers still affected from reduced work hours or struggling business from financial aid. 

The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB) provides about $300 a week before taxes to people whose job is affected by capacity restrictions of 50 per cent or more. The provincial government's decision to avoid gathering restrictions, despite record COVID-19 cases, has been critiqued by the provincial opposition and experts.

"It's extremely disappointing, although I will say it's not very surprising," said Lori Johb, the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.

When asked why the lack of benefit affects Saskatchewan residents, who are not eligible because the province isn't in a lockdown, Johb said, "Because there are no restrictions in place it puts workers in a very precarious situation because they don't have access to these benefits."

"Throughout this entire pandemic our provincial government hasn't stepped up in any real way for working people." 

Johb said she's aware of many workplaces operating on slowdowns or nearing closure because of sick employees and short staffing. 

Some workers also may not have paid sick time and, she worries, will continue to go to work with an illness because "they can't afford not to." 

SFL President Lori Johb is concerned about how Saskatchewan workers will fare without the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit. (CBC News)

That's an issue exacerbated by the government's advice to refrain from getting a PCR test if you're asymptomatic, but test positive on a rapid antigen test. The Workers' Compensation Board said it wouldn't accept rapid tests as proof of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

"We're going to  have a real rough couple of months coming up and I hope workers can get through it."

Health measures a point of contention

Saskatchewan's lack of public health measures, including the absence of gathering restrictions around the holidays, have been lambasted by Premier Scott Moe's critics.

Ryan Meili, leader of the provincial Opposition, said he's putting the province at more risk, and isn't aiding businesses suffering from the pandemic either. 

"This isn't the first time the [Saskatchewan] Party has left local businesses without federal support," Meili said. "[The government insists] on playing up to extremists, playing up to the anti-public health crowd that seems to have more influence on them than public health experts."

In an emailed response, the government said Saskatchewan workers have benefited from various supports, but it doesn't include the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit because the government's measures do not include capacity restrictions. 

"Proof of vaccination or negative test has been required at a number of businesses and facilities in the province since October … [enabling them] to remain open without capacity limits."

With files from Yasmine Ghania