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B.C. frontline workers waiting 'way too long' for pandemic pay: union

B.C. health-care workers and others working during the COVID-19 were promised a wage top-up in May. (680 NEWS)
Summary

Frontline workers first promised $4/hour bonus in May

Pay to come to many employees this week and soon to others

'We think the wait was way too long," says Hospital Employees' Union

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – More than four months after it was announced, thousands of essential workers in B.C. are still waiting for a promised wage top-up meant to compensate them for working during the first frantic weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, the B.C. government said it would pay health-care workers, care aides, prison staff, and other frontline workers an extra $4 an hour for a 16-week period starting in mid-March.

“Temporary pandemic pay recognizes all that our health and social service workers do to help keep people healthy, our communities running and deliver important care and services to the most vulnerable during this challenging time,” Finance Minister Carole James said in a May 19 press release announcing the program, which is partially funded by the federal government.

‘Welcome relief’ hasn’t arrived

That announcement “was a welcome relief,” according to a youth psychiatric hospital worker, whom NEWS 1130 agreed not to identify because she feared consequences from her employer. “March, April, May, and June were some of the most difficult months of my entire professional life.”

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The Ministry of Children and Family Development employee said she was grateful to keep her job while many others were being laid off, but the pandemic shut down her childrens’ daycare and she was forced to find another, which cost more.

“So I do appreciate that I was able to stay working, but I also appreciate that they developed specific compensation for those who were expected to just carry on and adapt as best we could,” she said.

But she said on Monday she’s yet to receive the pandemic pay and the latest she’s heard is it would come sometime this fall, which seemed “purposefully vague” because “fall is a long season, so I thought they were just trying to buy time.”

“It would just be nice if they say they’re going to do something, to have a defined timeline…because we’re dealing with enough unknowns as it is,” she said.

Communication lacking, workers say

The B.C. Government & Services Employees’ Union, which represents the psychiatric hospital employee and thousands of other workers who qualify for pandemic pay, declined an interview request but provided a statement.

The union said it was working to ensure its members “have the most accurate and up-to-date information available about how and when they can expect to receive the stipend from their employer.”

NEWS 1130 heard from several other workers who all said they have yet to receive the stipend, but several said they had been told to expect it as soon as this Friday. An email sent to Vancouver Coastal Health Authority employees last week promises eligible employees will get the money on Oct. 9 and thanks workers for their “patience during this process.”

A peace officer said he’d been hearing mixed messages since June about when the money would come and how much it would be. “We are being told now it’ll be on the next pay or two… if it even happens,” he said in an email.

A lab technologist who processes COVID-19 tests said she had “no word” from her bosses at the Provincial Health Services Authority about when the money would come.

‘We think the wait was way too long’

A Ministry of Finance spokesperson said the pandemic pay would “begin flowing” early this month, as previously promised. There would be no delay due to the government going into caretaker mode during the provincial election, she said.

“Workers have been waiting very patiently for pandemic pay,” Mike Old, a policy and planning coordinator for the Hospital Employees’ Union, told NEWS 1130.

He said most of his union’s members are employed by B.C.’s health authorities and expect the pandemic pay on their next cheque, but some who work for subcontractors, including food preparation and cleaning services, will likely have to wait longer while their employers submit applications to the province.

“We think the wait was way too long and we’re very happy that our members are starting to see the payments now,” he said.