Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
Visit SaltWire.com for more of the stories you want.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19: August 14, 2020
Mary Shortall says feds must focus on providing a living wage for a sector of the workforce that's falling through the cracks during the pandemic
It’s been nearly a month since Bill C-17 was scuttled in the House of Commons, and there’s still no word on whether the federal government has found a solution for seasonal workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary Shortall predicts many seasonal workers will fall through the cracks this year.
The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) told SaltWire many seasonal workers are in a tough situation.
Their EI benefits from work they did in 2019 are expiring in 2020, and many of them may not get enough work to qualify for a new EI claim.'
"The one thing we know for sure is that what’s out there right now doesn’t work. A lot of people fall through the cracks and it’s taking something like the pandemic to make us more aware of it.” — Mary Shortall
Among them are the people who normally work in fish plants, in the tourism and service industry and as seasonal municipal employees.
“They would have been expecting to come back to work this year, as usual, and they’re not getting hired because we’re in the middle of the pandemic.
“My understanding is there is still a lot of people falling through the gaps,” she said.
To date the federal government has not indicated it will have a plan for workers who run out of Employment Insurance benefits this year who did not find employment because of the pandemic.
In an email response to a question posed by SaltWire, the media relations office of Employment Services Canada said only that individuals who were already receiving Employment Insurance regular benefits prior to March 15, 2020, will continue to receive these benefits until the end of their benefit period.
“Individuals who have exhausted their Employment Insurance regular or fishing benefits between December 29, 2019 and October 3, 2020 may apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The CERB is available during the period March 15, 2020 until October 3, 2020.”
That program provides $500 per week to those who lost jobs or wages because of COVID.
TEMPORARY LAYOFF PERIOD EXTENDED
The other measure Ottawa has taken regarding labour regulations during the pandemic is to extend the temporary layoff period for anyone laid off prior to March 31, or between March 31 and Sept. 30, 2020.
Previously, under Canadian labour law, if a temporary layoff extended beyond 12 weeks, the employee was then deemed to be permanently laid off.
Under new regulations enacted in mid-June, the Canadian government provided for an extension of the temporary layoff period.
“For employees laid off between March 31, 2020, and September 30, 2020, the time period is extended until December 30, 2020, unless a later recall date was provided in a written notice at the time of the layoff,” the department noted on its website.
“These changes do not apply to employees who are part of a collective agreement that contains recall rights or to employees whose employment had already been terminated prior to the coming into force of the amendments on June 22, 2020. The previous measures will apply to layoffs occurring after September 30, 2020,” the department noted.
MONEY IN POCKETS
Shortall says more significant changes are needed to prevent other workers from falling through the cracks, noting labour federations have been calling for an overhaul of the Employment Insurance Act for some time, not just since the start of the pandemic.
She says a discussion is needed around the issue of a living wage, and on minimum wage rates across Canada.
The idea of a guaranteed wage for Canadian workers is another conversation that has to happen, added Shortall.
“We need to be talking about what is it we can do to put money into the pockets of all those people who fall through the gaps.
“We have a basic universal income for seniors, and we have a type of universal basic income for children with the child benefit but we really don’t have anything that puts money in people’s pockets that guarantees them a decent standard of living.
“We need to make it a public discussion and involve the people who would benefit from it, to add to their voices to it, to look at what could work for people.
“But the one thing we know for sure is that what’s out there right now doesn’t work. A lot of people fall through the cracks and it’s taking something like the pandemic to make us more aware of it.”
However, that bigger conversation will take time.
Meanwhile, for those seasonal workers who are running out of EI benefits and have no other money to fall back on, Shortall says the federal government really needs to do something to ensure benefits continue.
“We just need to keep pushing the federal government to intervene,” said Shortall.
Because when their benefits run out, she said, some of those people will be struggling to survive.
“They may have to go on social assistance and use food banks. And that’s not fair. It’s not right.”