British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Horgan says in a statement that while the majority of people are following rules to stop the spread of COVID-19, a small number are ignoring orders. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Premier’s office ‘confident’ temporary pandemic pay coming in October

B.C. Government Employees’ Union say workers have been waiting long enough to receive it

The B.C. government says temporary pandemic pay that was promised to essential workers in mid-May should be coming in October.

The stipend was promised to about 250,000 frontline workers for work done between March and July and some workers say they’re frustrated it still hasn’t arrived.

The premier’s office said Thursday ministries and funding agencies are implementing an invoicing and payment system for all employers so that they can receive and distribute the pay to their employees.

“The province recognizes the urgent need for these funds as well as the length of time it has taken to construct a payment system to distribute these funds,” the premier’s office said in a statement Thursday.

“We are confident that the funding will begin flowing through employers to employees in October.”

In announcing the pay as the pandemic took hold, Finance Minister Carole James said the stipend, which is cost-shared with the federal government, would recognize what workers were doing to help keep people healthy and communities running.

Front-line workers in health, social services and corrections are eligible for the $4-an-hour lump-sum payment for straight-hours worked between March 15 and July 4.

On Wednesday, the B.C. Government Employees’ Union said workers had been waiting long enough to receive it.

“Delays send the wrong message,” union president Stephanie Smith said in a statement.

While workers in every province have experienced some delay in getting the money, B.C. workers appear to be the only ones still waiting, Smith said.

Karen Dalton, a receptionist and former care aide at an assisted living facility in Nanaimo, said it was scary when the pandemic hit.

Staff feared for the residents and their families, and they were tired from working overtime, she said.

“We worked really, really hard to keep our residents safe. So, when we heard the pandemic pay was coming, it was a wonderful thing to be acknowledged for your hard work,” she said in an interview on Thursday.

Some workers had their pay slashed because new rules meant they could no longer take jobs at multiple sites, only one. So, the announcement of an additional $2,000 or so each was welcome.

“It was just a little relief that, oh my god I’m going to pay my MasterCard bill off, I’m going to be able to pay my rent,” Dalton said.

Dalton said staff have been questioning whether it will ever come.

Paul Finch, the union’s treasurer, said Thursday it would prefer to see the pay sooner and it wants to see eligibility expanded to the lowest-paid essential workers at liquor and cannabis stores, as well as those working in child-care.

“Throughout this entire crisis they’ve been on the frontlines at high risk and high exposure,” Finch said.

The Finance Ministry said in a statement that given the limited funding parameters of the cost-shared program, the province did its best to maximize the benefit to the most employees possible. B.C.’s approach closely matches what Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have done, it added.

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union, said earlier this week that the union was among those that advocated in April for an extra allowance recognizing the costs frontline workers were taking on.

Some workers lost access to public transit, for example, or had to spend more on work clothing as they couldn’t use laundry facilities and changed clothes more often to prevent transmission of the virus.

“It was a really, really challenging period,” she said.

Some staff working to set up the new payment system are also union members and Whiteside said she understands it’s a complicated process.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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