SFL calls on province to make hero pay top-ups available to front-line workers

·3 min read

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) is calling on the provincial government to make hero pay top-ups available to all frontline workers.

Early in the pandemic, the federal government announced a cost-shared program to support essential health care workers with wage top-ups.

According to information originally obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Sask. government has only spent just over half of the $102 million the federal government made available.

Sask. is the second lowest of all the provinces and territories in terms of spending that federal money.

"There's still a lot of money left in that pocket. So they need to start distributing the money that was put there to recognize health care workers," said Lori Johb, president of SFL.

Johb says the government picks and chooses which health-care workers are eligible to receive a wage top-up. She says the federation wants the funding to be made available for all front-line health care workers, including all hospital staff and workers at community-based organizations.

"They need to do it fairly and they need to do it across the board."

"We know that the people that work in hospitals that do virtually, in a lot of cases, the very same work as the workers that work in long-term care, were left out of these conversations and did not see the top-up."

Three Sask. unions representing health care workers have started a petition calling on the Sask. Party to provide a wage top up for all health care workers.

Grocery, retail wage

For some time, essential workers were being praised around the world for their work during the pandemic. And it wasn't just health-care workers. Semi-trailer drivers, cleaners, maintenance workers and other people in similar industries were suddenly unsung heroes.

That was especially prevalent for grocery store and retail workers. It got to the point where chains like Loblaws, Walmart and Metro even gave them a temporary pay raise.

In the spring most of these workers had their wage topped up at about $2 per hour, according to Johb.

Jim Anderson/Associated Press
Jim Anderson/Associated Press

But that ended in June, despite rising cases of COVID-19 and high profit sales for many big box stores.

"We have to recognize that these workers are out there every day ... especially during the holidays ... they're not getting any time at home and they're not getting any breaks from their work. They're putting themselves at risk and their families," Johb said.

Saskatchewan has the lowest minimum wage in Canada at $11.45 per hour.

"It's reasonable, I think, that [the workers] need to see a $15 an hour minimum wage that would be initiated regardless of a pandemic or not, and then a top-up on top of that. So I think there's a long way to go," said Johb.

Sask.Temporary Wage Supplement Program

The Sask. government began the fall sitting of the legislature with a throne speech by Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty on Monday.

Mirasty addressed aspects of the Saskatchewan Temporary Wage Supplement Program in the speech.

"In recognition of the extraordinary efforts staff are making in our long-term care facilities to keep our seniors safe, my government recently re-activated the Saskatchewan Temporary Wage Supplement Program," Mirasty said.

"This program will provide a temporary wage top-up of $400 a month for two months to workers in long-term care facilities, personal care homes, integrated health care facilities and to home care workers providing care to seniors in their own homes."