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Feds focusing on COVID-19 benefits that ‘incentivize work,’ says Qualtrough

Click to play video: 'Canadian businesses brace for pandemic benefits to wind down' Canadian businesses brace for pandemic benefits to wind down
WATCH: Canadian businesses brace for pandemic benefits to wind down – Oct 24, 2021

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough says shifting the government’s COVID-19 support programs from ones that were more “passive” to those that “incentivize work” is a reflection of the country’s success in fighting the pandemic.

The new measures are aimed at replacing the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), which expired on Saturday despite labour shortages looming across the country.

“These were always intended to be temporary measures,” Qualtrough said of the federal government’s Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) program that doles out up to $500 a week to those affected by the pandemic, on an episode of Global News’ The West Block.

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“It’s where we are in the evolution of this pandemic, and it’s actually a reflection of how we’ve succeeded economically and recovering.”

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Faced with a labour shortage, Qualtrough said the federal government needed to move to a more targeted approach that really “focuses on the sectors that haven’t recovered” and will support employees who would be unable to attend work during a lockdown.

Canada’s labour shortage is affecting a wide range of industries as both big and small businesses struggle to attract employees coming out of months or years away from the workplace. A report released last month found more than 60 per cent of Canadian businesses surveyed said widespread labour shortages were limiting their growth.

Qualtrough said there were shortages before the pandemic began, noting that the federal government’s hiring program has been notoriously “under-utilized.”

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“I think that’s a matter of us getting the message out that if you want to give people more hours, if you want to hire more people, if you want to increase the salary of the people you have on your staff, that’s all eligible under the hiring program,” she added.

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Experts say unvaccinated Canadians may also have a tough time returning to work due to new federal measures. Depending on workplace policies, someone who is unvaccinated could be turned away from a job or barred from returning to work, making them ineligible to claim unpaid leave or unemployment insurance (EI).

“The days of CERB are over, and its replacement supports have much stricter eligibility requirements, so unpaid leave means … your name would still show up on the roster but you wouldn’t receive any money for that,” Tory McNally, director of HR services at recruitment company Legacy Bowes, told 680 CJOB.

“There won’t be any government support. They’re considering it that they’ve voluntarily left their job, so they wouldn’t be eligible for Employment Insurance.”

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Canada’s current unemployment insurance allows Canadians access to benefits if they lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

But refusing to get vaccinated would typically constitute as a “choice” that disqualifies them from obtaining EI, Qualtrough said, especially “if an employer has a clear policy with clear consequences and it’s well understood that noncompliance to this condition of employment could lead to dismissal.”

She added that extenuating circumstances could apply to individual cases, but “typically, they would not be eligible” to collect EI.

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“We just think it’s good public health policy, but also economic policy to have safe, healthy workplaces,” she said.

“We know that vaccines are the most effective tool against COVID-19. We also don’t want people putting a fellow employee or fellow workers at risk (and) we don’t want workplaces to have to shut down because of an outbreak in a workplace.”

— With files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea, Sam Thompson and the Canadian Press

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