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$4-billion wage top-up coming for low-paid ‘essential’ workers but provinces to decide eligibility

Thursday, May 07, 2020 @ 2:46 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Ottawa and the provinces and territories have agreed to jointly provide up to $4 billion to temporarily boost the earnings of low-paid workers who are deemed “essential” by their provinces and territories during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa May 7 that the federal government will provide up to $3 billion to the new cost-shared program, while the provinces and territories have agreed to provide (in total) up to $1 billion for wage top-ups for their essential workers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Trudeau said the federal cash transfer will be delivered through the provinces and territories. “The provinces will be the ones determining exactly how, and who, will receive that funding,” he told reporters. “But the bottom line is this, if you’re risking your health to keep this country moving, and you’re making minimum wage, you deserve a raise.”

The prime minister did not provide details on eligibility, amounts or timing for implementation of the top-up, apart from indicating that it will apply to workers earning minimum wage.

He said the federal government is still finalizing some details with certain provinces.

“We know that the provinces are facing different circumstances right across the country because of COVID-19 and they are also taking different approaches towards the work of their essential workers,” he remarked. “A number of provinces have already put out lists of workers that they consider to be essential, and many of them are drawing from those lists in terms of who gets the top-up,” he disclosed. “We have confidence that the provinces will determine exactly how best to help Canadians in this time.”

A press release from the Prime Minister’s Office last month indicated that Ottawa was negotiating “with the provinces and territories through a new 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 government said at that time that the top-up could help several million workers involved in the COVID-19 response. 

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