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‘Having trouble getting staff’: Alberta stakeholders say CERB keeping workers at home

Alberta stakeholders discuss shortfalls surrounding CERB
WATCH ABOVE: The Canada Emergency Response Benefit has helped many people financially through these unprecedented times. But like any other program, it has its flaws. Taz Dhaliwal explores some complaints against it and speaks to an expert about how it can be tweaked to better support those returning to work.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit helps Canadians who lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, paying $2,000 a month to recipients.

However, concerns are being raised in Alberta that the program may be serving as a disincentive to work for some.

Shameer Suleman, the owner of several successful hotels and restaurants in Waterton, a popular area for tourists in southern Alberta, says CERB has benefited many Canadians and the wage subsidy program has even greatly assisted a few of his businesses.

Yet, on the other hand, he says he’s having trouble securing employees this season due to COVID-19 and what he believes is CERB.

“I am having trouble getting staff, because a lot of entry-level staff, that take my entry level jobs — and students that do a lot of jobs for me — are more than happy to sit at home and collect their CERB,” Suleman said.

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More concerns about CERB keeping people at home instead of work
More concerns about CERB keeping people at home instead of work

When Global News interviewed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney last week about an array of topics, including CERB, he said he’s heard similar complaints from employers in relation to the program.

“In the last couple of weeks, I keep hearing from employers in every sector: manufacturing, construction, hotels, tourism… restaurants and the service industry.., the hospitality industry, telling me that they’re having a hard time recruiting workers as the economy is reopening,” Kenney said.

Read more: Thief uses B.C. man’s identity to open fake bank account, apply for CERB

Just because someone receives the payments does not necessarily mean they qualify for them.

Fraudulent claims have been flagged as a potential concern when people who shouldn’t qualify for CERB are applying and receiving it anyway.

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In order to qualify for CERB, an employee must have lost income as a result of their employer’s decision to stop paying them, to lay them off or to drastically reduce their hours during the pandemic. Those who voluntarily choose not to go to work — when work is available to them — do not qualify.

This means that if you tell your employer you do not want to come into work or you refuse a recall to work, you may not qualify.

Read more: Canadians facing CERB gap receive explanation via government email

By telling your employer that you are unavailable to work or refusing to return to work, you may also be considered by your employer to have resigned from employment.

Workers continue to qualify for if they cannot work because they are sick due to COVID-19, are caring for someone who is sick due to COVID-19 or are caring for children who can no longer attend school or daycare.

If you are in an immune-compromised situation and do not want to risk your health by going to work, speak to your doctor. If your doctor agrees that you cannot work for health reasons and provides you with a letter to that effect, stopping work will not be considered a resignation.

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If you feel that your workplace puts you in danger by not properly allowing for social distancing, you are legally allowed to engage in a formal work refusal. This means that your employer may have to call in a government inspector, who will then determine whether the work is safe or not, and can order an employer to make changes to improve workplace safety.

Unless these conditions are met, employees risk putting themselves in a situation where they may not only lose the ability to qualify for the CERB, they can lose their job.

At what cost? The financial impact of extending CERB
At what cost? The financial impact of extending CERB

University of Lethbridge Sociology professor, Dr. Trevor Harrison, says when it comes to social programs, fraud typically isn’t a monumental issue.

“I’ve actually done a lot of research into fraud and social allowance payments and welfare payments and the amount of [fraud] is actually pretty minuscule,” Harrison stated.
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He said such fraudulent activity in regards to social assistance programs usually only constitute one to three per cent of applicants, adding white-collar crimes make up most fraud cases, not welfare crimes.

Read more: ‘Organized crime knows fraud is the way to go’: former RCMP financial crime expert

He adds the current health risks posed by the virus may be more of a deterrent for some choosing not to work. He said some may feel the economy is reopening too soon and feel pressured to go back to work, whilst they may be immune-compromised or have someone in their household who is. Childcare may be another concern for others.

Employees returning to their jobs part-time also face another dilemma: if a person makes even a dollar more than $1,000 a month they lose their CERB payment.

Read more: CERB poses back-to-work dilemma: ‘We’re being incentivized to make just under $1,000’

“I do think there’s probably some tweaking, like if this was going to morph into the annual guaranteed income, then you would actually want to test out those (income) levels,” said Harrison.

–With files from Lior Samfiru and Erica Alini