Ottawa, provinces and territories reach $4B deal to boost essential workers’ pay

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government has reached a multibillion-dollar deal with the provinces and territories to top up payments for low-wage essential workers. 

Last month, the federal government announced that a plan to boost the salaries of essential workers who make less than $2,500 a month — including those working in long-term care facilities for the elderly, front-line workers in hospitals and people working in the food industry — was in the works after talks with premiers.

On Thursday, Trudeau announced Ottawa has reached a $4-billion agreement with all the provinces and territories and is finalizing the details. The federal government will kick in $3 billion and the provinces will contribute the rest.

“Right now, we are finalizing the details with the last provinces, and I want to underscore that this has been a truly collaborative effort,” Trudeau said.

“We are relying on these workers now more than ever — and we will be there to support them.”

The cost-sharing agreements involve a temporary transfer of federal funds to the provinces and territories, Trudeau said.

“It will be up to each province and territory to determine who exactly qualifies for this wage increase, but the bottom line is this: if you are risking your health to keep this country moving and you’re still making minimum wage – you deserve a raise,” Trudeau said.

Some provinces have already moved ahead. 

For example, the Saskatchewan government recently announced that employees making less than $2,500 a month while working in a field with vulnerable people are eligible for a wage top-up of $400 per month for 16 weeks. That includes long-term care homes, daycares and shelters.

Ontario already moved ahead with a plan to provide a $4-per-hour salary increase for front-line workers as part of a temporary pandemic payment to recognize their efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

The crisis emerging in Canada’s long-term care facilities, where residents account for a disproportionate number of Canada’s deaths so far, has shone a spotlight on health and personal care workers’ typically lower salaries. They often work in multiple homes, which can spread the virus.

With some facilities struggling to keep a full staff, both Ontario and Quebec, which lead in coronavirus cases, have requested help from the military. 

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