Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made a step towards compensating frontline workers for their dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wednesday, Kenney announced a new, joint federal-provincial program that gives close to $465 million to approximately 380,000 Alberta public and private sector workers, as $1,200 cash payments.
“These workers have placed themselves at the front line of this pandemic in order to serve their fellow citizens during a crisis. Alberta’s government is recognizing their good work,” Kenney said.
“We trust this support will help these workers continue to protect lives and livelihoods as we keep fighting this pandemic together.”
The Critical Worker Benefit will be available to workers in health care, social services, education and private sectors that deliver services to Albertans or support food and medical supplies.
To be eligible for the benefit, employees must have worked a minimum of 300 hours during the period of Oct. 12, 2020 to Jan. 31, 2021.
The government estimates nearly 161,000 eligible health-care workers will receive the benefit. These eligible occupations include orderlies and patient service associates, respiratory therapists and technologists, nurses (RNs, RPNs, LPNs), food services, housekeeping and maintenance workers and unit clerks.
That’s good news according to The Union of Healthcare Professionals.
“These finances will recognize the hardships that many low-paid workers in Alberta, including many in health care, have been experiencing while putting themselves at risk for our community,” said Mike Parker, president of HSAA.
“Instead of protecting themselves and their families by isolating at home, these workers provided essential services for all of us at great risk. Because of their sacrifice, we’re managing to weather this crisis and their sacrifice should be recognized.”
The benefit will also assist close to 45,000 workers in the social services sector. Up to 36,000 workers in the education sector, including teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cleaning staff will also be eligible.
Private sector workers who make less than $25 per hour or less will also qualify.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the wage-support funding is arriving too late and is being used for political gain.
“Alberta’s frontline workers needed this wage support months ago like other provinces provided. Thousands of workers have dropped out of the labour market because of burnout or illness. They won’t get support from this government,” McGowan said.
The NDP noted in an economic impact assessment released Tuesday that the province’s GDP could have been $361.2 million larger if the money was released when the federal funding became available in early 2020. The party said that other provinces, like B.C. started distributing their money to frontline workers as early as last June. More than 200,000 workers have already received top up pay.
“Jason Kenney’s delay in accessing this federal funding comes too late. It was another instance, like the deal with KXL and rescinding Lougheed’s Coal Policy, where Jason Kenney showed terrible instincts and made the wrong choices,” said Christina Gray, NDP critic for labour.
“In this case, the delay in getting these federal dollars, has hurt Albertans while they grappled with the second wave of the pandemic.”