For immediate release
With federal COVID-19 income supports set to end on March 27 for many, workers fear the future, demand action from the federal government.
TORONTO, ON - Workers still unable to work due to the pandemic spoke at a press conference today to bring attention to the looming financial crisis facing hundreds of thousands of people across the country. The special COVID-19 Employment Insurance and Recovery Benefits will soon run out for many.
Most of the 844,190 workers on the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) will see their benefits end March 27. That’s because the maximum entitlement is 26 weeks, and most people applied in September. Many of the 130,000 people receiving the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) are in the same boat, with the same 26-week maximum. With 2.3 million on Employment Insurance (EI), many more will face the same fate. Those on EI who transferred from CERB to EI in September with 490 or fewer hours will see their EI benefits run out on March 27.
“Like so many of us, I lost my job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during this period, I couldn’t find a full-time job because the economy was broken,” said Shiva Montazeri, who is also an international student. “I emailed and called many employers about work, and when I spoke to them, all told me that because of this crisis, they don’t have any open positions. My work permit expired in October 2020, so I don’t have a Social Insurance Number and can’t get any federal benefits. My situation is desperate. Other people like me are also in terrible situations”.
Even with the $500 per week in (taxable) benefits, people are already having a hard time paying the rent and putting food on the table.
“This has been a challenging and vulnerable time for my family and me. During the first lockdown, we fell three months behind on rent, and our landlord threatened us with eviction,” said MD. Masud Rana, a restaurant worker for the last six years who have been out of work since October. “The benefits have helped us survive this pandemic, but we are just scraping by and have to rely on grocery programs for additional support.”
Christine Ilott works in theatre. “Last summer, I was hopeful that things might begin to open up. But once the second wave hit, it became obvious that theatres may not be able to open up until just before Christmas. And even then, it will likely be at a much-reduced capacity,” she said. “Like so many others in the arts sector, I am dependent on the federal recovery benefits to survive, and if they run out, I honestly don’t know what I will do. I don’t know how I will pay my rent.”
Essential income supports are running out as the pandemic continues. Workers call on the government to extend income supports until at least December 31 or until the pandemic is over. Workers called on the government to:
- Increase the number of CRB and CRCB benefit weeks.
- Increase the number of Employment Insurance benefits weeks for all claimants.
- Expand all benefits coverage to migrant and undocumented workers as well as international students.
- Increase the number of EI Sickness Benefits weeks to 50.
- Provide debt forgiveness on CERB repayments for low-income workers.
Understanding that the pandemic’s effects will continue beyond this year, workers are also demanding that the government make permanent improvements to the Employment Insurance system to improve accessibility and set an adequate benefit floor for all workers.
“Workers literally cannot afford any more foot-dragging on the part of the government. The economy will not be recovered until at least 2022 - and maybe not even then. We need a robust plan for the year ahead, not piecemeal measures that leave workers in a state of panic as benefits run out and job prospects remain grim,” said Deena Ladd, Executive Director of the Workers Action Centre. “We know who is bearing the brunt of these policy half-measures: women and racialized workers who were already in low wage, precarious employment before the pandemic and are now facing financial ruin. The worker-driven solutions outlined today will help ensure we prevent further harm to hundreds of thousands of workers.”
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For more information or to arrange an interview with a worker, please contact:
Workers Action Centre: Rajean Hoilett
About the organization:
The Workers Action Centre is a worker-based organization dedicated to improving people’s lives and working conditions in low-wage and unstable employment. Learn more at https://workersactioncentre.org.