ALBERTA WORKERS WANT UCP TO SHOW THEM THE MONEY
EDMONTON – According to the UCP Minister for Jobs and Economy, almost three quarters of the 365,000 Albertans eligible for the Critical Worker Benefit are still waiting to get their money, months after the program closed and more than a year after the province got the money from Ottawa.
“It’s been almost 100 days since the portal closed, and yesterday we learned that the UCP have only done 25 per cent of their job,” said NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray. “This coming after Jason Kenney left that money on a table in Ottawa for almost nine months instead of getting it into the pockets of Albertans and our economy when we needed it most. So much for moving at the ‘speed of business.’ What’s the hold up?
“This is a failure by this Government, which has abandoned workers on so many fronts during this public health emergency. My message to this government is simple — show them the money.”
Applications for the Critical Worker Benefit opened on February 17 and closed on March 19, 2021. Employers were to apply for their employees to fit the eligibility requirements to receive a $1,200 lump sum for working at least 300 hours between October 12, 2020 and January 31, 2021, and earn $25 per hour or less.
“That’s just under $350 million that is still not in the pockets of Albertans who have completed their applications and are waiting for this money,” Gray said. “This after many Albertans were told they did not qualify for the benefit to begin with. Workers were told at the beginning of the pandemic that their work was essential, only to have the UCP turn around months later and say they weren’t critical enough.”
Erik Mikkelsen, a retail worker in Calgary, learned that he and his coworkers did not qualify for the benefit when it was announced.
“That kind of money would have made a difference in my life as I dealt with the added stress and resources I needed to purchase to protect myself while working a front-facing job,” Mikkelsen said. “Every day I went to work I risked bringing COVID back home to my mom who has been facing health concerns over the last year. It’s frustrating, and it’s insulting.”
The UCP also received heavy criticism from employers for the cumbersome application process for the Critical Worker Benefit, including signing up for a digital ID, submitting information for every employee, submitting the employer’s corporate banking information, and signing a grant agreement.
Cheryle Busat is an educational support worker whose employer fought the UCP to have their staff included in the benefit, when originally their occupation was told did not qualify.
“We just received confirmation that the government reversed their earlier decision, but this doesn’t mean all clerks in all boards and divisions will be receiving the benefit. We were lucky that Edmonton Public School Board stood by us,” said Busat.
“It’s shameful that after everything the critical workers have done for this province, the Government continues to delay payment, and make these workers fight for this benefit.”
Alberta’s NDP calls on the UCP government to immediately release the remaining 75 per cent of funds to Alberta workers along with a projected timeline for that distribution.
Alberta Critical Worker Benefit Timeline
The program has been plagued with issues including data breaches, unclear eligibility, no appeals process.
On May 7, 2020 the Government of Canada announced funding for wage top-ups for essential workers, including $347 million for Alberta.
June 1, 2020: funds were accessible to provinces.
Summer 2020: Ontario, Manitoba, BC complete phase one of wage top-up for essential workers.
February 17, 2021: Government of Alberta launches Alberta Critical Worker Benefit Program.
February 17, 2021: Official Opposition Labour Critic Christina Gray identified critical flaws and gaps in the Critical Workers Benefit, including that over $35.6 million – almost 8% of total funds – would be used for administrative costs. Gray urged: “This is money for workers, period.”
February 18, 2021: Minister Jason Copping announced that eligibility would be expanded to include health, education, and social service workers in not-for-profit settings.
Many workers remained ineligible including food take-out delivery drivers, retail staff and hardware store workers.
March 5, 2021: Minister Jason Copping apologized for a data breach that resulted in personal information of 224 employees being viewed by other employers when using the application portal.
March 19, 2021: Alberta program closes for applications
June 16, 2021: UCP Minister for Economy, Jobs and Innovation informed the Legislative Assembly that only 98,000 applications for the Critical Worker Benefit have been approved.