Wage top-up signals calm before the storm for Alberta's essential workers

February 10, 2021
EDMONTON

Wage top-up signals calm before the storm for Alberta's essential workers

Friends of Medicare were relieved to learn today that the dedicated health care staff and essential workers of this province will finally be receiving wage top-ups after many months of waiting. During a press conference this afternoon, Premier Kenney and Minister of Labour Jason Copping announced that under Alberta’s Critical Worker Benefit 380,000 workers in both the public and private sector will receive a one-time top-up payment of $1200.

“While Albertans continue to contend with the uncertainty of this pandemic, between the government's vaccine rollout and their decision to reopen bars and restaurants while we’re seeing unpredictable new variants, this is certainly great news for our vital workers, though considerably overdue,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.

On May 7, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced that the federal government had reached a funding agreement with the provinces and territories to compensate essential workers for the risks they would be undertaking by working throughout this pandemic. While the federal government has created an exhaustive list of workers who are considered to be “essential,” it was left to the provinces and territories to propose which workers should qualify for a top-up, and how much they should receive.

Federal funds began flowing to provinces on June 19, but prior to today’s announcement, the Alberta government had made the decision to to leave that money on the table, as part of $300 million in heretofore unaccessed federal funding allocated to the province. As a result, Alberta’s essential workers have not yet received any wage top-ups, unlike their counterparts in other jurisdictions across the country.

“Throughout this pandemic we have seen the federal government do the heavy lifting when it comes to helping Canadians navigate this public health crisis,” says Azocar. “Alberta’s essential workers, and especially our health care staff have been risking their health and safety for the better part of a year to ensure that our health care system can run as smoothly as possible. They need—and deserve—more supports from their provincial government, including mandated paid sick leave.”

A recent report by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) revealed that per capita, Alberta has received the highest level of federal COVID-19 response spending of all the provinces, at $10,400 per Albertan. In comparison, only 7% of spending received has been from provincial money.

Alberta is nearing the release of another provincial budget, which will undoubtedly see cuts to front line workers. Albertans should be wary that this top-up announcement, although much needed, is being presented as a cushion to soften the impending blow. 

“Politically speaking, Albertans can always expect good news before a storm,” says Azocar. “This government has promised deep cuts since before they were even elected, and we’re sure we’ll see those take shape in the 2021 budget. But Albertans have been dealt a harsh reminder of the vital importance of a well-resourced health care system, and the workers that operate it. They’re not going to take cuts laying down.”