Concerns over promised Ontario pandemic pay not yet received
SUDBURY -- An extra $4 an hour and four monthly, lump-sum payments of $250 were promised by the Ford government back in April, but so far the pandemic pay hasn't provided the relief it was expected to.
"They made the announcement four weeks ago. To my knowledge, right now, no institution has received any money or even how they would distribute the money - whether it be a separate cheque, if it's taxable or non-taxable," said Sudbury MPP Jamie West. "That's caused a lot of frustration for the employees and the employers because they don't have information about what's coming and they've been waiting now for a month."
The Sudbury Education and Advocacy Centre said they've also received a handful of calls about the pandemic pay, however, not as many as they were expecting. The group's campaign organizer, Shandel Valiquette, says there needs to be more information given out.
"It was basically just [people] looking for more information. How is it going to last? Is it going to be added to my paycheque? Is it going to be one lump sum? And because there is such a lack of information around it, it's been really hard to give solid answers," said Valiquette.
The Ford government announced temporary pandemic pay on April 25, to a specific list of front-line workers. However, this has left many companies and employees feel like they've been left out or overlooked.
The United Steelworkers union, which represents between 5,000 and 6,000 people in Sudbury, issued a letter to the premier on May 13 asking him to re-evaluate the list of employees who qualify.
Marty Warren, the union director of District 6, says security guards should qualify for the extra pay.
"More and more security guards are being asked to work at hospitals, work by retail, out in public and they are as close to the front line as so many others and risking their health every day," said Warren.
The union director adds that so far it has been "radio silence" from the government since the letter was sent.
"Ford recently announced there's only so much money. But I don't understand how the government can start a program and try to give something to certain people and certain sectors, and then, realizing that other sectors are at the same risk, how you can't make it right," said Warren.
Other people have taken to social media to list essential employees who have been left out, like midwives, medical lab technicians and personal support workers who work in the private sector.
West says his office has received a number of calls from individuals who feel they deserve to qualify for pandemic pay.
"A lot of people have this image of the grocery store worker or the gas station attendant, but I've talked to some of these workers where people have come in and deliberately coughed on their screen or wiped things on the screen. You like to imagine that most people don't, and most people don't, but there are people that are doing that. And the reality is you are high-risk if you're face-to-face with the public and we need to recognize this," said West.
A list of those who qualify for pandemic pay is available online, but when the money will come or if others will be added is unknown.
On the Ontario government website, it states:
"As of May 15, we have contacted all eligible employers, service delivery partners or employer associations. That includes more than 2,000 employers across Ontario.
We are moving funds to employers as quickly as possible, so every eligible employee receives pandemic pay through their existing payroll systems. Appropriate accountability requirements will be in place to ensure that funding is provided to eligible employees.
Eligible employees will receive temporary pandemic pay on hourly wages and those working over 100 hours in a designated four-week period will receive monthly lump-sum payments. This pay will be provided retroactively to April 24, 2020."
"After a while it just becomes frustrating," said West. "It becomes basically a plastic 'carrot' that you're chasing that you're never going to get. You feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. So, the quicker we resolve this - stage one, so that people who are qualified get the money in their pocket. Then stage two would be to get the other people who should be qualifying as well to have the money in their pocket."