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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Ottawa expands wage benefit to low-earners, jobless seasonal workers; also extends EI benefits

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 @ 2:49 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Ottawa is expanding eligibility to the $500-per-week Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to jobless seasonal workers, and to low-income workers who are still earning up to $1,000 a month, as well as extending workers’ employment insurance (EI) benefits that ran out this year.

Noting he expects it will still be “many weeks” before Canada’s economy is back up and running, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa April 15 that he will be speaking with provincial premiers April 16 about the federal government assisting them to temporarily top up the incomes of essential workers who earn under $2,500 per month. He particularly stressed the plight of underpaid workers in long-term care homes.

“We need to do better,” he said, vowing that Ottawa will move on this “as quickly as possible”.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

In a press release afterward, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed particular demands on low-income workers in certain sectors, including those on the front-line in hospitals and nursing homes; those ensuring the integrity of the food supply; and those providing essential retail services to Canadians.

“In recognition that these essential workers’ salaries are often less or similar than what they would receive from the CERB, the government will work with provinces and territories through a new [federal to provincial] transfer to cost-share a temporary top-up to the salaries of workers deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19, who make less than $2,500 a month,” the PMO announced. “Details as to the application and delivery of this measure will be released shortly following further work with provinces and territories. This measure could help several million workers currently involved in the COVID-19 response. The government will continue to look for ways to better help all Canadians during this difficult time.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters that who will be deemed “essential” will be determined collaboratively with the provinces.

Trudeau also said that the government will have announcements “very soon” for students unable to find summer employment, and for businesses calling for relief from their commercial rents, given the economic fallout from COVID-19.

The government is expanding the availability of the $500-per-week CERB by removing, retroactive to March 15, the eligibility requirement that a worker must have lost all of his or her earnings due to COVID-19. That rule left many people with low incomes — such as artists, freelancers, gig workers and other self-employed people — out in the cold and unable to make ends meet. 

According to a Department of Finance backgrounder posted April 15, the government now is:

  • Allowing people to earn up to $1,000 per month while collecting the CERB;
  • Extending the CERB to seasonal workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits and who are unable to undertake their regular seasonal work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak; and
  • Extending the CERB to workers who have exhausted their EI regular benefits recently (since Jan. 1, 2020, according to the prime minister) and are unable to find a job or return to work because of COVID-19.

The government said it would post more details “shortly” about the new eligibility rules, at the CERB application portal of the Canada Revenue Agency.  

The CERB provides $500 per week, for a maximum of 16 weeks. It is available from March 15, to Oct. 3, 2020. The application deadline is Dec. 2, 2020.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Cristin Schmitz at or at 613-820-2794.