A Leadnow petition started by Adam Friesen is currently circulating with over 20,000 names, calling on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government to help Canadians who are excluded from the CERB, a promise he made just before taking off to his cottage in Harrington to enjoy Easter weekend with his family—something that no one else is allowed to do.
Current qualifications leave out Canadians who have made less than $5000 in the past twelve months. This requirement, first of all, disqualifies full-time and part-time workers who have recently started working, but have not yet accrued $5000.
The most restrictive parts of the CERB requirements centre around the wording of this phrase: CERB is only eligible to those “who have stopped working because of COVID-19.” But what exactly does “stopped working because of COVID-19" mean? More importantly, what will it mean to whatever phone agent gets to interpret your case down the road? As currently worded, applicants may face many possible interpretations of their situation by EI agents who, frankly, are not known to be the most sympathetic government workers.
Many who are self-employed are afraid to apply if they have irregular earnings. What if they meet the $5000 requirement and now cannot work because of COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not why they stopped working?
What if their jobs start and stop throughout the year? Someone may have stopped working because a contract ended or there was a diminishment of work opportunities, and were intending to start working again in the spring, but now suddenly can’t because of COVID-19. The end result is the same: their planned income has dropped due to COVID-19. Perhaps, a fairer more helpful wording should be instead, “if you made $5000 in the last year, and now you can’t work because of COVID-19.” In other words, you intended to work.
Furthermore, students who have come out of teaching assistant jobs or research positions in university have not lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Semesters have ended, and now many of them who had been relying on an income through school, easily hit the $5000 threshold for income earned in the last year, and had every intention of finding a job immediately after graduation, are now unemployed and cannot work due to COVID-19. This situation is exacerbated if the student is also a parent and cannot afford to pay bills, buy food, or pay their rent. This hypothetical student is not eligible for the current requirements of CERB because they did not “stop working due to COVID-19.” But they’re still screwed.
Clearly, having to qualify for CERB, like Employment Insurance, is designed to deter applications from those who don’t need it. It’s also designed to dissuade those working on the frontline from quitting their, in many instances, poorly paid jobs where they are risking their health working at wages starting from $11.65 per hour.
While we do not want workers who are healthy leaving their jobs if they can work, and are not sick, or do not have to take care of a family member who is sick that they need to take care of, we should consider that those who work 40 hours a week, 20 days this month in Manitoba won’t even receive $1864 after tax deductions. What does it say about us as a country if many still working on the frontlines are making less than what our government is paying other Canadians to safely stay home?
Now that Easter weekend is over, and all the eggs have been gathered up around Harrington cottage, it’s time Justin Trudeau returns back to government and starts addressing the concerns of Canadians he’s been paying lip service to since he left Ottawa.