Unifor's newest factsheet for Alberta activists outlines how Premier Jason Kenney is squandering federal funds set aside for front-line workers.
"Jason Kenney is playing games with money that COVID heroes have earned," said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. "If last week's budget is any indication, frontline workers can't trust Jason Kenney to get the job done."
The rules governing the danger pay were unilaterally implemented with no input from unions. It is part of a larger UCP pattern of "divide and rule" to limit effective resistance to his agenda says Unifor. The confusing rules governing danger pay were issued in the same week as regulations for the anti-worker Bill 32.
"UCP policies are designed to divide workers in the public and private sectors or even within the same workplace," said Dias.
More than nine months ago, the federal government announced a $3-billion federal fund to help repay frontline workers for their service during the pandemic.
While some have called this a "bonus" cheque, it is in fact more akin to danger pay because it is directed at workers whose jobs could not be done from home during the pandemic.
Alberta's share of the fund was $347 million, but the Kenney government has lagged behind all other provinces in getting the funds to the hands of workers. The "Critical Worker Benefit" will amount to $1,200 for those lucky enough to qualify.
The Alberta government has stipulated that workers must have worked at least 300 hours between October 12, 2020, and January 31, 2021.
The government has said workers in public health-care, social services, education sectors are eligible for the payment. However, many public servants will not meet the 300-hour threshold. Critics say the criteria could prevent jail guards and social workers from qualifying.
The Ottawa-funded danger pay cheques are at odds with the Kenney government's comments about upcoming public-sector bargaining. Kenney insists that workers across the public service will be forced to take a pay cut during the pandemic.
"Jason Kenney might be the only premier in Canada actively promising to ensure workers are worse off after the pandemic," said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director.
Matters are even murkier for frontline private sector workers. Unlike in the public sector, workers the private sector must rely on their employer to apply to the government before March 19, 2021. Workers can only qualify if employers verify employees made less than $25/hour.
With employers in charge of getting the danger pay to workers, there are also fears that it will get caught up in the same bureaucratic mess that has prevented hundreds of private-sector health-care aides from receiving the provincial $2/hour top-up.
The long danger pay delay could be a symptom of a larger problem in the Jason Kenney government. A report published on January 26, 2021 showed that Alberta is sitting on hundreds of millions of unspent federal transfers for other COVID-19 programs, such as Early Childhood Education, housing aid, and job training.