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Alberta announces plan to provide $500M to support frontline workers

Last Updated Feb 11, 2021 at 10:18 am MDT

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new financial support for essential workers on Feb. 10, 2021. (CREDIT: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) – Alberta’s UCP government will soon provide a financial benefit to the province’s frontline workers.

Premier Jason Kenney announced $465 million in support will be given to thousands of essential workers which amounts to a one-time $1200 payment to 380,000 eligible workers in both private and public sectors.

Around $347 million of that money is coming from the federal government, which previously announced it would send millions of dollars to provinces to provide financial support for frontline essential workers. The province had been criticized in recent weeks for not acting quicker in making use of the federal funds.

Kenney said this can benefit the largest amount of frontline workers and can boost the economy as well at a critical time.

“These workers have won the gratitude and the support of the entire province. But everyone, Alberta’s government included, understands that these workers deserve more than just rhetorical recognition for their good work,” he said. “This initiative will ensure that Alberta is making the most of our share of the federal benefit for lower-waged essential workers.”

The province is contributing $118 million into the fund, and this is on top of previous funding directed just for long-term care and supportive living staff.

Private sector employers will need to apply to get the funds, and then distribute them to the workers while public sector workers will automatically receive the cash from the province. Employers have until Mar. 19 to apply for the benefit.

It will be available for people in a wide range of sectors, including health care, education and social services. For health care, eligible staff would include nurses, orderlies, housekeeping and maintenance staff.

Private sector workers need to make less than $25 an hour to get the payment, and would include people working in grocery stores, food manufacturing, warehouses, gas stations and more.

For both sectors, eligible employees need to have worked at least 300 hours between Oct. 12, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021.

Kenney said this is a clear sign of appreciation for Albertans who have remained on the front lines delivering services through the pandemic, but also the premier made it clear the government will continue pushing public sector unions to roll back wages in negotiations.

“This is a one-time payment, a bonus of sorts, to recognize a one-time unique circumstance which has been the pandemic,” Kenney said. “But as you know, Alberta is facing a fiscal crisis. We were already facing a huge fiscal challenge before the pandemic.

“Money does not grow on trees. We have to, while protecting lives and livelihoods, we also have to protect the health of the province’s finances.”

The announcement received some negative criticism from unions and the leader of the official opposition, including about the point Kenney made around continuing to push for lower wages for public sector workers.

“While announcing the much delayed distribution of mostly federal dollars to compensate public and private front line workers for experiencing danger during COVID-19, (Kenney)
tells public front line workers experiencing danger during COVID … that they’re paid too much,” NDP leader Rachel Notley said in a tweet.

In a statement, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta said they shouldn’t have had to wait so long for this kind of support.

“While those who are fortunate enough to be included in the top-up are happy to receive the funds, many workers who are also at risk were ignored,” said President Mike Parker. “Alberta needs to recognize the contributions of all workers during this pandemic, not only those it deems are ‘heroes.'”

The Alberta Federation of Labour also blasted the announcement as “cynical and divisive”.

“The Kenney government didn’t want to provide financial support for Alberta’s frontline workers. It made this announcement not because it values their work, but because it was pressured and embarrassed to do so,” President Gil McGowan said in a statement. “It’s also an unnecessarily divisive and provocative move. Only lower wage workers in select jobs will get the support. Many workers in both the public and private sectors in the trenches, delivering the services our province needs during the pandemic, will not see a dime.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was also critical, citing some concern over the use of public dollars to subsidize private businesses.

“We’re thankful for the hard work and important services these Albertans are providing, but businesses should be paying the wage top-ups, not struggling taxpayers,” said Alberta Director Franco Terrazzano. “Many of these businesses have been able to stay open throughout much of the pandemic and struggling Albertans shouldn’t be forced to pay higher taxes to cover this payout.”

Out of the total cash, up to $170 million is allocated just for private sector businesses. The largest portion — up to $195 million — is going to health care, up to $55 million is directed for the social services sector, and up to $45 million goes to education.