Feds reach $4b deal with provinces for wage top-up for essential workers

It will be up to provinces to determine who qualifies

Some essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic are set for a bump in pay.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday (May 7) the federal government has reached an agreement with all the provinces and territories for a wage top-up for essential workers.

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He said details are still be finalized with some of the provinces but it will be up it will be up to those other jurisdictions to determine who will qualify for the pay increase.

The prime minister previously announced April 15 that the federal government wanted the top-up to target essential workers — notably those in care centres — making less than $2,500 a month.

B.C., which unveiled its own plans for a top-up prior to Ottawa, previously estimated it will cost the province $10 million a month to cover its plans for a wage boost for long-term care workers, who are no longer allowed to work at multiple facilities.

Ottawa said the new top-up plan will cost $4 billion, with 75% of that coming from federal coffers.

The remaining $1 billion will be covered by the provinces.

Trudeau reiterated that it will be up to each province and territory to determine who qualifies as an essential worker.

“But the bottom line is this: If you’re risking your health to keep this country moving and you’re making minimum wage, you deserve a raise,” he said during his daily media briefing outside his home in Ottawa.

Trudeau added because of the variance across the country of the pandemic and delivery of essential services such as healthcare, it was best for provinces and territories to be responsible for deploying the top-up as opposed to Ottawa issuing some sort of universal bonus.

It is possible the top-up could be issued not only to health-care workers, but others offering essential services such as grocery store workers or delivery drivers.

The B.C. government issued a list of essential services last month, which includes farms, foodbanks, community kitchens, childcare and public transportation, among others.

Trudeau said many of the provinces are drawing from those lists in terms of who gets the top-up.

“One of the things that we’re seeing through this pandemic is there are people who are tremendously economically vulnerable, and vulnerable in other ways in our society, who are extremely important to the functioning of our society,” he said.

“As we’ve made it through this pandemic so far, we’ve been focused on supporting these most vulnerable people and this top-up for essential workers delivered by the provinces is another piece of support for people who need it.”

The prime minister was also pressed on worker safety in food-processing plants, where outbreaks — including three in Metro Vancouver – have left hundreds contracting COVID-19.

Such safety concerns fall under provincial jurisdiction.

“One of the things that this crisis has shown us is various points of vulnerability, not only in our supply chain but also in terms of people who work in jobs we find extremely important across the country for feeding Canadians,” Trudeau said.

“There a lot of questions being asked of how various provinces have handled various aspects of the pandemic. I will be talking to the premiers tonight again to offer, in so many ways, how the federal government can help.”



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