The Alberta government announced last week it would be supplying a one-time payment of $1,200 to approximately 380,000 public and private sector employees who have been working on the frontlines and putting their health at risk throughout the pandemic.
According to the government, the Critical Worker Benefit will support employees of grocery stores, warehouses and food production facilities, in addition to truck drivers, custodial workers and others who have been unable to work from home throughout the pandemic.
While our newsroom is pleased to see government monies – of any kind – allocated toward directly helping residents and businesses navigate this pandemic, it seems strange to provide support to people who have been able to keep their jobs throughout the last year. In order to receive this stimulus, you must prove you worked more than 300 hours between Oct. 12, 2020 and Jan. 31. With an unemployment rate of 10.7 per cent as of January, according to government figures, there are so many people without work right now who would benefit from this type of stimulus cheque instead.
The benefit seems more like a “thank-you” to frontline workers from the government, rather than actual support that is needed to put food on the table. It’s a quite expensive gesture, as the initiative is costing the Alberta government $118 million, supplementing $346 million the federal government committed last year.
We’re not denying frontline workers deserve bonus or hazard pay for continually exposing themselves to potentially contracting the virus on a daily basis. But the companies where these employees work should be the ones stepping up to do this. An example is when grocery store chains bumped up their pay for hourly workers back in the spring of 2020.
While the recipients of the Critical Workers Benefit will undoubtedly welcome the additional $1,200 in a time of such economic uncertainty, an extra paycheque worth of money in these workers’ bank accounts will not necessarily protect them any better against the virus.