Widespread VIA Rail layoffs reveal deep failure of CERB program rules

July 8, 2020

OTTAWA – More than 1000 VIA Rail workers received layoff notice today, along with news that Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s CERB rules still deny them employer-paid income top up.

“The CERB rules step all over longstanding income security practices that workers and employers have held for decades,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Many rail workers showed up throughout the early weeks of the pandemic, and continue to deliver service despite the risk to their own health. The least that workers deserve from the federal government is to honour their hard fought collective agreement benefits.”

VIA Rail, as a crown corporation, is unfairly barred from accessing the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy for its workers, despite a massive downturn in passenger rail service. The corporation paid its employees who did not have work due to the pandemic 70 per cent of wages until this point.

While on temporary layoff, the affected members will be able to apply for the CERB, but are denied the negotiated supplemental income plan (SUB plan) that is in their collective agreements.

“Instead of allowing employers to hold up contractual obligations that are negotiated specifically for situations like this – the federal government prohibits it,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor Quebec Director.

“More than 4000 Unifor members have already emailed Morneau and Minister Qualtrough demanding that this policy be revoked. How many thousands of workers need to lose their income and benefits before the government corrects this awful policy?” continued Gagné.

Unifor alone has negotiated SUB plans for about 50,000 members in many sectors. SUB plans are no cost to the public treasury, and are part of a contract that a worker, or their union, makes directly with an employer.

Unifor has a member-driven petition to ministers Morneau and Qualtrough, demanding that they stop denying SUB plans. Visit www.unifor.org/SUBplans for more information.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 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.