Concerns Raised Over Alberta’s Critical Worker Benefit

Alberta-Legislature-Building-Edmonton-Alberta-Canada-01A

On February 10th, 2021, the Government of Alberta announced a plan to support hundreds of thousands of workers working at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Critical Worker Benefit (the “Benefit”) provides a one-time payment of $1,200 to eligible Albertans. Through the Benefit, the Government of Alberta is set to distribute up to $465 million in funding to eligible workers, including up to $118 million in provincial funds and $347 million from the federal government’s benefit program for low-wage critical workers.

The Benefit is open to both public and private workers. At the public level, health-care workers are eligible where they worked in a designated health-care setting, in an eligible occupation, and have worked at least 300 hours for an eligible employer in Alberta between October 12, 2020 and January 31, 2020 (the “Eligibility Period”). Social service workers operating in Alberta are entitled to the Benefit if they worked at least 300 hours during the Eligibility Period and worked in the area of children’s services or community services. Further, in the context of education, educational assistants, bus drivers, custodians, and school secretarial staff are entitled to the Benefit if they have worked the requisite 300 hours for a provincial school authority or a contractor with a provincial school authority in Alberta during the Eligibility Period.

In the private sphere, workers are eligible for the Benefit if they earn $25 or less per hour, worked the required 300 hours during the Eligibility Period, and are located and working in Alberta. Such workers must also have worked in a position listed as eligible by the government, including limited positions in the fields of: retail (grocery, pharmacy, and gas), food manufacturing, truck transportation of food and medical supplies, warehousing and storage of food and medical supplies, private health clinics, or in First Nations communities. A private sector employer must apply for the benefit on behalf of their eligible employees.

The Government of Alberta has come under fire for the perceived rigidness of the Benefit’s eligibility criteria. For instance, certain front line workers, such as teachers and correctional workers, appear not eligible at all for the Benefit at all, despite the public and precarious nature of their jobs during the pandemic. Highlighting the exclusion of substitute teachers, Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling noted that, “While many teachers stay in a cohort with their class, substitutes move between classes and buildings, putting them at a higher risk of exposure [to COVID-19]”. Furthermore, the 300-hour eligibility threshold has the likely result of excluding workers who are on disability leave or those who work part-time, but continue to confront COVID-19 in their occupations. Many workers opt for part-time employment out of necessity, due to family obligations or health concerns, and are excluded from the Benefit because of it.

For the Government of Alberta, however, the restrictions on eligibility are necessary in light of the relevant financial constraints. As Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping noted, “There’s not enough funding to recognize everybody who continued to work, because the population is just simply too big. So we had to make choices, like many other provinces”.

Applications for the Benefit remain open until Friday, March 19, 2021.

 

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.

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