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LETTER: Government needs to ensure all qualified essential workers get the wage top-up

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne announced money for the forestry sector in Corner Brook Friday.
Immigration, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne - File photo

COVID-19 has taught us many lessons as it relates to our daily living. It has defined what is truly important and has separated priorities from the trivial. It has also given us a renewed appreciation for our frontline and emergency workers, and has altered our definition of what we consider to be an essential service.

While we have traditionally considered essential workers to be those working within health care and emergency services, COVID-19 has demonstrated to us all just how much we rely on so many others, including those in the retail and service sectors.

In recognition of this and in an effort to compensate those essential workers (on the lower end of the income scale) who stepped up to the plate and placed themselves at risk while most of us stayed home, the government developed an income top-up benefit known as the Essential Worker Support Program. This program provides up to $1,500 as a one-time payment to essential workers who gross less than $3,000 per month.

In conclusion, I’d like to give a big shout out to all of our health-care and emergency service personnel, as well as to all of the others who have stepped up to provide us with the goods and services we require during these unprecedented times. We truly appreciate your efforts.

While this program was obviously a good news announcement to those for whom the program was developed, unfortunately there are still numerous essential workers who have fallen through the cracks and have not received a dime.

Some of the reasons for this include:

— Employers not applying for the program on behalf of their employees.

— Employees who normally make less than $3,000 per month going slightly over the income threshold as a result of working additional hours to get their employer out of a bind when other employees refused to come to work.

— Workers exceeding the threshold due to cashing in banked leave or overtime (as a one-time transaction) in order to make ends meet during the pandemic, perhaps due to a spouse losing income.

In speaking with Immigration, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne, as well as with officials within the department, it is my understanding that the government is currently reviewing this program and working on ways to address some of the unanticipated shortfalls that have arisen within the program, including those noted above.

Let’s hope that this gets resolved soon, and that these essential workers receive the benefits they were intended to receive.

In conclusion, I’d like to give a big shout out to all of our health-care and emergency service personnel, as well as to all of the others who have stepped up to provide us with the goods and services we require during these unprecedented times. We truly appreciate your efforts.

Paul Lane, Independent MHA,
District of Mount Pearl-Southlands

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