AFL outlines six ways to improve the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit COVID-19

EDMONTON - Applications for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) opened yesterday and while the federal government’s efforts to help Canadians through the COVID-19 pandemic are laudable, continuous adjustments will need to be made to address unforeseen issues or gaps in the response programs during these unprecedented times.

In a blog post and letter to the federal government, the Alberta Federation of Labour has outlined six gaps, inadequacies, and suggestions to quickly address them. Workers that appear to be excluded from the CERB are workers receiving employer-paid top-ups, seasonal workers, workers currently on Employment Insurance, workers whose income has dropped, and workers with just cause for quitting.  We must also recognize that the current monthly support rate of $2000 is inadequate for most Canadians to survive during this crisis, especially in cities with a high cost of living. 

“It is imperative that these changes be made swiftly to ensure more people do not fall between the cracks and that Canadian workers are properly supported through this crisis,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “All workers affected by COVID-19 measures need to be supported and it is vital that the government get money to these Canadians as quickly as possible.”

Allowing employer-paid top-ups for workers helps ensure that employers are not unnecessarily laying off workers due to an incorrect assumption that all employment relationship ties must be severed in order for workers to qualify for the CERB. It should also be noted that under the regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, workers receiving a top-up would not be penalized – rather, these employers would enjoy slight EI premium relief in some cases to actively encourage such supplementary unemployment benefit plans.

Seasonal workers, workers currently on EI and workers with reduced income could also be falling through the cracks. All workers who are unable to find employment or return to their employment because of COVID-19 should be eligible for the CERB. We should not be excluding any workers because of the timing of the crisis. 

An important group being overlooked are those workers with just cause for quitting. Although many employers and workers are adapting well to the situation, there are still instances where workers are put in positions where their only reasonable course of action is to quit their jobs. These workers should not be penalized under the CERB system but rather given the benefit of the doubt. 

Given that the federal government will be processing an unprecedented number of these cases, we advise it would be best to make all workers who have lost or seen a drop in income because of COVID-19 eligible for the CERB. When workers file their taxes a certain percentage of the CERB payment could be paid back during an interest-free period of one year at the same rate as the Working While on Claim program. This would ensure that all working Canadians receive the income support they need right now, and allow those who can to continue to earn income and maintain their employment relationships.

Read the blog post.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Ramona Franson
Director of Communications
rfranson@afl.org