'You deserve a raise': PM says deal reached to top up wages for essential COVID-19 workers
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that an agreement has been reached with all provinces and territories to top up the wages of some essential front-line workers including those in long-term care facilities where COVID-19 has spread among both residents and staff, with deadly impact.
The boost to wages will be done though a cost-sharing initiative between the federal government and the provinces and territories. The federal government is budgeting up to $3 billion to be doled out across the country to workers who are making “very low wages, while doing extraordinarily important work.”
Trudeau said the federal government will be putting up three quarters of the top-up with the provinces and territories covering the other 25 per cent of the funds, totalling $4 billion.
It will be up to each province and territory to determine exactly who will be eligible in each region, but the bottom line is: “If you are risking your health to keep this country moving and you’re making minimum wage, you deserve a raise.”
The reason there is not one uniform hourly rate increase, Trudeau said, is because the spread of the pandemic is in different stages across the country, and the way essential services including healthcare are delivered differs from one province to the next.
On April 15, Trudeau first promised that funding was coming to keep front-line workers on the job and that wages would be boosted for essential workers who are making less than $2,500 a month through a transfer to the provinces and territories.
“Premiers from across the country all agree that we need to support our essential workers,” Trudeau said on Thursday. “We're relying on these workers now, more than ever, and we will be there to support them.”
Already, Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan have rolled out hourly pay increases for some workers in essential service sectors.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized the government for the length of time it took to get an agreement on these raises, and said they should become permanent.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Conservative health critic Matt Jeneroux said that while the wage increase will be helpful, it “would have been nice” to see this support in place weeks ago.
81% OF DEATHS LINKED TO CARE HOMES
Trudeau has another call with the premiers on Thursday evening where this wage increase and other ongoing pandemic issues are set to be on the agenda.
“I know a number of provinces had already put out lists of workers that they consider to be essential and many of them are joining from those lists, in terms of who gets the top up… We trust the provinces to make sure that people who need it get this help,” he said.
This comes as Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that 81 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada are linked to long-term care homes.
“That’s a lot,” Tam said, adding that while that is the national average, there are some regions that have not seen any long-term care deaths.
The day prior she said that, while the epidemic is “decelerating” in Canada, “the number of deaths will continue to increase” particularly among the cases connected to long-term care homes.
As of midday Thursday there are 63,904 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, and 4,283 people have died, the majority of whom are older than 60.
During Thursday’s virtual special all-party COVID-19 committee of MPs, Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said the government is spending $2 billion on personal protective gear for health workers, including those in long-term care homes, though other front-line staff continue to express concern about an inadequate supply, especially as gradual economic reopening means more businesses will need access to supplies like gloves and masks.
The aim of the wage boost is to keep as many of these workers on the job, especially those in seniors’ homes, given they’ve now been asked to only work at one facility to help lessen the spread, resulting in many earning less than they would if they stopped working and collected the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Canadian Nurses Association President Claire Betker said that while the wage top up “can’t hurt,” it will depend on how it is implemented across the country.
“Those workers, those essential workers are very, very critical to our health systems and to our social fabric so I'm glad to see that even late, it is being recognized,” she said in an interview on CTV News Channel.
She said a review should be conducted into the state of affairs within the long-term care sector.
“It's an uneven field out there… Even within nursing the wages are not even… depending on your employer, depending on the community, depending on the province and territory that you're working with,” she said.
Seniors’ homes across the country have seen staff become infected and others reluctant to show up for work citing concerns of inadequate personal protective equipment, leading to the military being called in to help.
MILITARY DEPLOYMENT INCREASING
Ahead of Trudeau’s address Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan provided an update on the Canadian Armed Forces’ pandemic deployments.
He said, by mid-May there will be 25 facilities in the Montreal area with military assistance on-hand. There are currently 13 long-term care homes where hundreds members of the military have been working, but the total deployment is set to increase to 1,350 personnel.
In Ontario, 265 members of the military have been deployed to five long-term care homes, and Sajjan said the military is ready to assist in more if needed there or elsewhere in the country.
“We know many Canadians are worried about their loved ones in these facilities. They’re concerned for the health and the added stress of the isolation that our parents and grandparents are experiencing,” Sajjan said.
Trudeau said the work they are doing to support the staff in these homes should be seen as a comfort to families whose loved ones they have been unable to visit for weeks.
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Sajjan said that aside from the military’s medical personnel, members are not typically trained to be able to help in these seniors’ homes, and so they are being trained on the essential care needed as quickly as possible.
Though, he said this cannot be the long-term solution and while the Canadian Armed Forces are ready to be in these homes for the next month or so, it’ll be on the provinces to establish more sustainable staffing plans.
“We obviously can’t be there for a long duration just because the Canadian Armed Forces has a lot of other responsibilities that it needs to get to,” he said.