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Province ponders change to front-line bonus rules

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The rules for front-line workers to receive a monetary reward for putting themselves at risk during the pandemic may change, Manitoba's premier says.

When he announced the $120-million Manitoba risk recognition program for low-income workers Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister said an estimated 100,000 workers, making $2,500 a month or less, would be eligible for the taxable benefit. "If there are fewer applicants, there will be a bigger cheque per applicant."

On Wednesday, Pallister said he’d consider expanding the program to include higher-wage earners, such as nurses, but "only if there’s insufficient take-up by the middle- and low-income earners would that be done."

"I want to encourage all Manitobans who'd like to apply for the recognition to do so." – Premier Brian Pallister

When asked to clarify whether a lower number of workers applying for the benefit would get bigger cheques or if not enough apply the threshold will then be raised to include higher-income earners, Pallister said it would be "speculation."

"We'd have to wait and see what the number of applicants were," he said.

The online application process began Wednesday; the deadline to apply is June 18.

Premier says he meant no harm by 'all lives matter' comment

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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

Posted: 03/06/2020 5:36 PM

Premier Brian Pallister said he meant no offence earlier this week when he uttered the phrase "all lives matter" while referring to an upcoming rally at the legislature.

Social media commenters quickly seized upon the remark, which has been linked to criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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"I want to encourage all Manitobans who'd like to apply for the recognition to do so," Pallister said. "Then we'll deal with the issue with more knowledge in our hands."

The federal-provincial program was announced in April by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to top-up the wages of low-income Canadians working in essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ottawa will provide up to $3 billion, with the provinces and territories offering $1 billion. It was left to the provinces to decide how to administer it.

Before rolling out Manitoba's program, the premier said he consulted twice with 15 unions, business leaders and critical service providers, who voted and arrived at a consensus on the parameters.

The province included in the consultations health-care unions — whose members earn more than $2,500 a month or $14.42 an hour, too much to be eligible for the benefit.

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said it shouldn't have been asked to participate in a process that didn't affect their members. Group president Bob Moroz said it was included so the premier could declare he had a consensus in the rollout of the risk recognition program.

"People are not happy about this. They're asking, 'Why? Am I not at risk?'... They're quite upset." – Bob Moroz

"It just goes to show the entire process itself was conceived as a low-wage program initially, then he brought unions like ourselves in to proudly boast about consensus," said Moroz, whose union declined to participate.

Pallister admitted Wednesday he was wrong to say there was a "consensus" among the working group.

"I asked for advice. I got the advice. We're acting on the advice, and most certainly it won't please everybody," the premier said.

"People are not happy about this," said Moroz, adding union officials have been hearing from some of its 6,500 members in 160 disciplines. "They're asking, 'Why? Am I not at risk?'... They're quite upset."

It shouldn't be called a "risk recognition" program if front-line health-care workers are excluded, said Moroz.

The Manitoba Nurses Union had wondered from the start why it was invited by the province to join the working group for the $120-million program, said president Darlene Jackson.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The Manitoba Nurses Union had wondered from the start why it was invited by the province to join the working group for the $120-million program, said president Darlene Jackson.</p>

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

The Manitoba Nurses Union had wondered from the start why it was invited by the province to join the working group for the $120-million program, said president Darlene Jackson.

"My first comment on our first call was: 'Is this about risk or is this about low income?'" she said Wednesday. "They would not give us a clear answer."

The union, with 12,000 members, didn't want to be part of a process that pitted front-line workers against one another, and declined to vote on who should receive the benefit.

The nurses are not against a program recognizing low-income workers on the front lines of the pandemic, Jackson said. "I really hope it's successful, and everyone eligible for the benefit applies and gets it. There other ways to recognize nurses."

A new contract would be the best form of recognition, she said.

"Bring us back to the bargaining table. It's been three years since our collective agreement expired."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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Updated on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 at 8:30 PM CDT: embeds sidebar

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