THE B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union (BCGEU) is calling on Victoria to expand the federal-provincial cost-shared pandemic pay program to temporarily top up the wages of some essential workers to cover more essential frontline workers.
“The BCGEU pushed hard for this program to cover the broadest possible range of essential works and, as a result, B.C.’s program is significantly more inclusive than those in other provinces,” said Stephanie Smith, President of the BCGEU. “We’re happy that some of our lowest-wage members doing some of the highest-risk frontline jobs will be eligible. But the bottom line for us is that all frontline essential workers are shouldering an incredible burden in terms of increased cost, stress and inconvenience as well as increased risks to their emotional and physical health. All of these workers deserve recognition—not just some of them.”
Under the program, which was first announced by the federal government in mid-April, tens of thousands of BCGEU members will be eligible for a lump-sum payment calculated at $4 per straight-time hour retroactive to March 15, 2020. BCGEU members covered by the program include those providing vital services to the province’s most vulnerable citizens like corrections officers, social workers, employment assistance workers, and those who work in health care and social services.
However, thousands more BCGEU members have been left out of the program including those in public liquor and cannabis stores and warehouses, maintaining supply chains for the restaurant industry as well as a critical revenue stream for the government during the pandemic.
“From the moment this funding was announced by the federal government, our goal as a union was to make sure B.C.’s program covered the broadest possible swath of frontline essential workers,” said Smith. “And our goal hasn’t changed. This kind of patchwork recognition creates arbitrary divisions at a moment when unity and solidarity among workers is more important than ever. We’re grateful for those who are covered, but we will keep fighting for those who aren’t.”
In addition to pushing for broader eligibility for the program, the BCGEU is continuing to work with partners in the labour movement and the social justice community on leveraging the lessons of the pandemic to improve the lives of working people with a focus on issues like family-supporting wages, universal child care, and enhanced workplace safety—including paid sick leave.