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Considerations for forthcoming emergency benefits letter

April 3, 2020

The Honourable Minister Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion

Dear Minister,

Re: Considerations for forthcoming emergency benefits

Our union is closely following developments with respect to proposed new income assistance measures, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) as well as the Employment Insurance Emergency Response Benefit. Our staff have been engaged in many discussions with federal officials on these matters, in recent weeks.

There are a myriad of challenges in establishing new systems and procedures to address the record number of Employment Insurance claims over the past weeks, resulting from the COVID-19 virus. I commend you and your staff for attempting to construct an income assistance program for unemployed workers that goes beyond the confines of our Employment Insurance system – and its rigid, outdated eligibility rules – to cover a broader scope of affected workers. The speed at which your team is working is extraordinary and I appreciate your hard work.   

I understand that officials have yet to finalize many key program details. However, each day there is greater clarity on how this program will look, including certain areas of concern. It is critical that federal officials identify and address as many major problem areas as possible prior to the rollout of these benefits.

I am bringing to your attention a number of potential problem areas in these new programs that have been identified by our union. We are seeking your assurances that:

Seasonal workers, particularly fisheries workers, who expected to return to employment but now cannot, are either eligible for new CERB assistance or have expiring EI claims extended for an indefinite period;

  • Unemployed workers, receiving the EI Emergency Response Benefit are eligible for Service Canada approved Supplementary Unemployment Benefit plans;
  • After the 16-week emergency benefit period, EI-eligible workers can transition into a full claim for Regular Benefits, without penalty and with no waiting period;
  • Despite establishing special EI benefits related to COVID-19, all otherwise eligible claims will continue to be processed, including ‘working while on claim’ provisions for workers with reduced work hours;
  • Unemployed workers, entitled to a benefit rate in excess of $500 per week, will receive a compensatory adjustment to their claim that is proportionate to their lost earnings;
  • Workers who quit their jobs for ‘just cause’ are eligible to receive CERB payments;
  • Workers providing care to individuals who are vulnerable or immunocompromised, and have not contracted COVID-19, are eligible to receive CERB payments;
  • Workers whose income has been greatly reduced but not eliminated, are eligible for CERB or EI Emergency Response Benefits; and
  • Workers, such as students, newcomers, and those facing injury or disability, who are unable to meet the $5,000 income threshold, will be able to access the CERB and EI Emergency Response Benefit.

Minister, I urge you and your staff to consider and address each of these matters, in the course of finalizing program details. It is imperative your government responds to these challenges, given the effect they will have on hundreds of thousands of workers.

Our union is standing by to assist in whatever way we can.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office directly at jerry.dias@unifor.org

Sincerely,

Jerry Dias, National President

 

cc. The Honourable Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, P.C., M.P., F.R.S.C., The Honourable Minister Filomena Tassi, P.C., M.P., Mr. Daniel Blaikie, M.P., Mr. Dan Albas, M.P., Ms. Louise Chalbot, M.P., Mr. Pierre Laliberté, Ms. Judith Andrew, Lana Payne, Scott Doherty, Angelo DiCaro.

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Don't reward unethical employers using scabs

April 2, 2020

The Right Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau, P.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Canada

Dear Prime Minister,

Re: Don't reward unethical employers using scabs

I am writing to you today about the eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

First, I want to thank you for heeding the advice of organizations, including mine, which argued that the 10 per cent subsidy offered by the Temporary Wage Subsidy program was totally insufficient and its eligibility criteria far too narrow. By introducing a 75 per cent wage subsidy under the CEWS, the government will provide a far more meaningful incentive for employers to keep workers on their payroll. Other crisis measures, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, are also welcomed by workers who desperately need income support during these unprecedented times. Unifor looks forward to working with you to better tailor these programs for the needs of working people in the coming weeks and months.

As you begin to finalize the eligibility criteria for CEWS, it is important that you prohibit employers currently involved in labour disputes choosing to deploy replacement workers (aka scabs) from accessing the subsidy.

Under no circumstances can these employers be rewarded by the federal government for union-busting tactics. Should federal funds be allocated to companies benefitting from scab labour, it will only serve to prolong labour disputes, doing greater harm to local workers, their families, and their community.

Scab labour is illegal in two provinces, Québec and British Columbia, and ought to be outlawed in the federal sector, as we have discussed in the past.

Take the case of the Co-op Refinery in Regina. More than 700 Unifor members have been locked out by the employer since December 5, 2019. Co-op was quick to fly in scabs using helicopters and has chosen to house them in cheap, temporary facilities. Co-op has resisted bargaining a settlement for more than 118 days and has recently snubbed recommendations from an independent mediator appointed by Premier Scott Moe.

The obstacles facing these locked out refinery workers are many. The last thing these oil and gas workers and their families want is a generous federal subsidy directed to an inflexible and greedy employer bent on breaking their spirits.

The dreadful conditions of the crowded worksite housing is also something Unifor has raised with municipal and provincial authorities. Whatever one’s view of replacement workers, nobody deserves to be the subject of Co-op’s bizarre housing experiment during a public health crisis. Those workers should be immediately sent home to their families before an outbreak happens.

I appreciate that initiating programs such as the CEWS under an impossibly short time frame is a very challenging undertaking for policy-makers and civil servants. That said, we are proposing implementing simple criteria to prevent Canada’s most unethical employers from benefitting from emergency relief. Let’s work together to put working people first.

Sincerely,

Jerry Dias, National President

cc. The Honourable Bill Morneau, P.C., M.P., The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., The Honourable Scott Moe, M.L.A.

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