Unifor actively advising on federal COVID-19 policies

Unifor has continued to engage and advise on federal COVID-19 policies during isolation with National President Jerry Dias providing virtual testimony to both House and Senate Committees.

“The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), picked up the slack for our Employment Insurance (EI) system, which is evidently broken, and in desperate need of repair,” Dias told the Commons Standing Committee on Finance during his May 21 testimony. “However, the CERB has flaws that need fixing. At the top of that list…to allow employer-paid, and Service Canada registered supplemental unemployment benefits (or SUB) alongside CERB.”

Addressing the same committee, Keith Sullivan, President of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union in Newfoundland and Labrador, called for changes to aid 3,000 members employed in fish processing plants.

“These workers will need support from the federal government, either by an extension to the CERB or through changes to seasonal EI, similar to the recent changes to fishing EI that will ensure they can qualify based on last year’s insurable hours,” said Sullivan.

On May 27, before the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, Dias stressed that the COVID-19 crisis has brought many of Canada’s structural weaknesses to surface. His testimony emphasized that despite having paid into EI for their entire working lives millions of workers are unable to qualify for EI benefits under normal conditions and went on to warn of an impending flood of new EI claims as initial CERB claims expire in July.

Dias also told the Senators that COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the low pay and harsh working conditions many workers face, including those deemed essential like Personal Support Workers in nursing homes and workers in supermarkets.

“It has brought into clear view the gender pay divisions of care and service work – and how deeply undervalued this work is,” said Dias as he called for labour standards reform, including a new federal minimum wage of at least $15 among other needed changes.

This week Unifor took its call for reform to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA).  During Dias’ virtual testimony he told MPs that additional incentive is needed to persuade employers to utilize the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which would provide greater financial support to workers laid off due to COVID-19.

Unifor’s presentations highlighted the need to strengthen Canadian manufacturing with the pandemic proving how a lack of government investments and dependency on global markets for essential goods and services can only backfire during a time of crisis.

“Whether it is sorely needed PPE or other goods, we need to better develop our domestic supply chains, strategically, to sustain our economy and stabilize jobs,” Dias testified.

The union also recognized that income security has as much to do with employment as it does other affordability issues, such as housing and rent, transit and mobility, drug coverage and child care.

During the Q & A session following his presentation to the HUMA Committee Dias engaged in a pointed exchange with Conservative MP Kevin Waugh on assistance measures needed to save Canadian media. Dias said Parliament had to “stop the carnage of the industry” while calling Waugh out on lack of action by the previous Conservative government.

Dias concluded his presentation by announcing that Unifor will unveil a comprehensive framework for Canada’s economic recovery pronouncing, “This is not a time for Canada to think small. This is the time bring our biggest ideas to the table.”