Expanded CERB access a positive step but more needed for essential workers

April 15, 2020

TORONTO– Unifor calls expanded access to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) a positive step but says that additional support measures are needed for essential workers.

“This increased access will provide benefit to tens of thousands of Unifor members, currently excluded from the CERB,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

Today the government announced an extension of the CERB program to include seasonal workers, those with expiring Employment Insurance claims as well as individuals still receiving modest employment income.

The government also announced a wage top up for essential workers, which will likely include health care workers and supermarket workers that make less than $2,500 a month. Unifor maintains that the government’s move to provide additional wage enhancements for workers is a good start, but falls far short on having any real impact on front-line COVID workers.

“These workers continue to go to work each day despite the risk to themselves and to their families,” said Dias. “The sad reality is that while these workers are now recognized as essential, many barely earn a living wage and this will offer them no wage enhancement whatsoever.”

Unifor has been calling on individual employers to provide wage enhancements for essential workers in multiple sectors including health and retail. Last month the union achieved agreements with Rexall, Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys to provide a $2 dollar wage premium and enhanced health and safety measures to its retail members. Only about fifteen individual agreements have been reached in other critical sectors, including at specific long-term care homes.

“On behalf of these workers I have stressed the need for fair compensation in conversations with the Prime Minister’s Office,” Dias said. “We need to broaden this much-needed wage premium to make it easier for all front-line workers to continue to deliver the crucial services that we rely on.”

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector and represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

Information about the union’s response to the pandemic, as well as resources for members can be found at unifor.org/COVID19.