Alberta’s Critical Worker Benefit program continues to face criticism from both employers and employees — months after being rolled out.
Cabin Brewing Co. owner Darrin Sayers told Global News the COVID-19 pandemic brewed up a lot of changes for his business. So when he heard about benefits for critical workers, he quickly attempted to apply.
“There was definitely confusion off the bat for sure,” he said. “It made it seem like we were eligible at first, and then when I went to go in — it was no go.”
The Alberta Small Brewers Association said the industry was deemed essential but not critical, and even though brewers are classified as food manufacturers, liquor was excluded from the benefit.
Sayers said that’s very disappointing considering how much work his 18 employees put in during the pandemic.
“Our staff did an amazing job. They did so much more than they would normally do, and really banded together.”
Premier Jason Kenney announced the one-time payment of $1,200 on Feb. 10, calling it a reward for going to work despite personal risk amid the pandemic.
The $465-million program, cost-shared between the federal government and provinces, was designed to benefit up to 380,000 Canadian workers in areas like health care, social services, retail and transportation.
But Alberta’s first and second phase program rollout has been met with scathing criticism from the official opposition.
“There’s huge gaps, glitches, errors,” NDP labour critic Christina Gray told Global News.
Gray added not only has the application process been confusing, but the criteria was also flawed.
“They had to do a second version to improve on the first, failed version,” Gray said. “And they’re still missing the mark for a number of different sectors and employees.”
“We’re (the NDP) hearing that 50 per cent of these private employers who applied are being denied.”
Gray said technically the money was announced by the federal government during the first wave of the pandemic. She added more than a year later, and the province still hasn’t “got it right.”
“It’s been a complete failure to get this money out the door,” she said. “And it’s hurting workers and our economy.”
Global News reached out to the province with these concerns. We were told in a statement that: “Through the first phase of the program, the government of Alberta distributed $367 million to 289,800 critical service workers.”
Officials went on to say based on the remaining funding and feedback, the recent expansion of the program will allow an additional 76,500 workers to be eligible to receive the benefit.
Sayers hopes his employees will be among those who can finally get the benefit. He added not only do they deserve the recognition, they also deserve the cash.
“It’s a huge deal to a lot of people — $1,200 is a lot of money.”
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