July 8, 2020

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Essential worker support retooled

Risks faced by many health-care staff during pandemic still not recognized: union

Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding announced Tuesday the province has expanded criteria for the $120-million risk-recognition payment program. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding announced Tuesday the province has expanded criteria for the $120-million risk-recognition payment program. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

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The list of essential Manitoba workers eligible for a one-time payment in recognition of the risks taken throughout the pandemic has expanded to include more job titles and higher-earning employees, with a new income cap of $5,000 per month — double the province’s initial announcement.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding announced Tuesday the expanded criteria for the $120-million risk-recognition payment program, noting the province has received feedback from unions and stakeholders since it rolled out the initial requirements in mid-May.

The new requirements make the Manitoba Risk Recognition Program available to hotel staff and business improvement zone employees, some of whom have been distributing COVID-19-related education material throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Both part- and full-time employees in these sectors — as well as Manitobans who work in health care, social services, justice, transportation, food and beverage and essential retail — now qualify if they worked a minimum of 200 hours between March 20 and May 29. (Employees who were scheduled to work that amount or more, but were required to self-isolate under public-health orders, are eligible.)

The previous income cap of $2,500, calculated before taxes and overtime earnings, has also been bumped to $5,000 per month or a total of $12,500 during the two-month period. Anyone who earns more than approximately $60,000 per year is disqualified.

"By increasing eligible positions and income limits, and excluding overtime earnings, we will ensure the program continues to support lower- to middle-income workers, and recognizes those who may have otherwise worked themselves out of qualifying through overtime," Fielding said in a prepared statement.

Ottawa announced in April it would provide up to $3 billion, with provinces and territories chipping in $1 billion, for programs to top-up the wages of low-income workers in essential services. Each province was given the reins to decide how to distribute the funds.

Manitoba announced its initial program in May, after consulting with 15 unions, business leaders and critical service providers — a group that voted on the parameters of the initiative. Fielding said Tuesday the province consulted the stakeholders again in order to expand the program.

While representatives from the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and Manitoba Hotel Association applauded the expanded measures, unions that represent health-care workers expressed frustration the benefit’s requirements create inequities within their memberships.

"There may be more allied health professionals in Manitoba who would qualify under this expanded criteria, but we’re still a long way from having all of our members recognized for the risk that they faced through the pandemic," said Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals.

The president of the Manitoba Nurses Union echoed those sentiments; Darlene Jackson said the program excludes most full-time nurses, but it includes some who work part-time hours and earn the same wage.

"In a sector that relies on a balance of full- and part-time workers to meet the needs of patients 24-7, this approach is obviously unfair, and will cause frustration for many nurses," she said Tuesday in a statement.

It remains unclear how much individual payments will be, as the fund will be distributed equally to qualified applicants; essential workers have until noon June 29 to apply.


Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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