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Winnipeg groups unclear how many of their workers will qualify for coronavirus ‘risk pay’

Questions linger over Manitoba’s “Risk Recognition” payments
One day after the province introduced a one-time pay boost for front line workers, unions are saying the criteria exclude many who were expecting to be part of the wage top-up. Global's Brittany Greenslade reports.

Essential workers keeping the province going during the coronavirus crisis can now start applying for a one-time ‘risk payout’ from the government but many organizations say the program is too restrictive.

Premier Brian Pallister announced details of the $120 million joint federal-provincial Risk Recognition Program Tuesday.

READ MORE: Long list of front-line workers to receive top-up cheques in Manitoba

The program provides a one-time payment to low-income, essential, front-line workers, who have taken risks to keep Manitobans safe during the period of March 20 to May 29 of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to encourage all Manitobans who would like to apply for the recognition to do so,” Pallister said during a press conference with reporters Wednesday, adding that approximately 100,000 essential workers are likely to qualify for the payout.

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However, to be eligible to receive the bonus, which the premier said could be around $1,000 per person, there are some requirements.

Essential workers must have worked a minimum of 200 cumulative hours during a specified time period, made less than $2,500 a month and not have received any federal CERB funding.

“We actually don’t know how many members this could be for us,” a spokeperson for the Manitoba Government Employees Union told Global News via email.

None of the groups Global News reached out to could say how many of their employees may be eligible.

“It’s impossible for us to say how many members are eligible, but our support workers, security guards and retail grocery workers, are most likely to see some benefit from this program,” United Food and Commercial Workers Union President Jeff Traeger said.

“The devil is in the details, though, as many members in retail and security will be excluded.”

Traegar said the majority of the city’s 6,000 security guards would not be eligible.

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The UFCW said it represents more than 7,000 grocery retail workers.

“Many will not be eligible due to their employers already giving some form of appreciation pay, or they worked extra hours/overtime, which put them over the threshold,” Traegar said.

A spokesperson for CUPE Manitoba said Wednesday the union is still trying to figure out how many of their members may be eligible for the program.

“I imagine it will take some time considering the complexity,” said David Jacks in an email.

A post on CUPE’s website Tuesday called the government’s Risk Recognition Program “deeply flawed” and suggested some front-line workers in health care or emergency response won’t qualify because of the limits placed on earnings.

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It also condemned the government’s decision to exclude some sectors, such as non-emergency municipal workers and education workers from the program.

“The program is limited to certain industries, and positions within those industries, and therefore excludes thousands of essential front-line workers who have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19,” reads the statement in part.

“This program as it stands is simply unacceptable. When you leave out a group of workers, you send a strong message about their value. An insult to one is an insult to all.”

READ MORE: Federal, provincial partnership makes $120M available for Manitoba front-line workers: Pallister

Pallister said 15 different unions, organizations and stakeholders provided input on the program criteria. However, many said their voices weren’t heard.

The Manitoba Childcare Association, which represents childcare workers, early learning and child care educators, said 36 per cent of facilities were open during at least the beginning of the pandemic, but with intermittent closures, it’s unclear how many of their 1,100 workers may qualify.

The premier said he’s not looking at changing the criteria right now.

“I think that we have to wait and see what the applications do over the next 10 days and then I’ll be able to answer your questions,” Pallister said.

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Manitobans have until June 18 to apply.