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Emergency Response Must Lead to Long-Term Reform, Says USW Leader

TORONTO, OTTAWA – United Steelworkers (USW) National Director Ken Neumann says the federal government’s short-term emergency responses to the global pandemic must be the basis for reforms to everything from Employment Insurance to care for the elderly and corporate restructuring.

“Our 225,000 members work in every sector of Canada’s economy, from front-line health care workers to industrial and manufacturing, mining, forestry, airport security and universities. Each of these sectors has been affected in different ways – from mass layoffs for some, to a desperate scramble for necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for others,” Neumann said today in a presentation to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Finance.

“Temporary fixes must be changed into longer-term reforms, such as income supports to supplement EI, dramatic reforms to elder care, universal public pharmacare and universal, public child care.”

Neumann said too many Canadians are excluded from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), including the long-term unemployed, those who were forced to resign from their jobs because of COVID-19 and those who do not meet the income threshold.

Many USW members have bargained Supplementary Unemployment Benefits (SUB). Neumann noted that the government has encouraged the negotiation of these benefits.

“It is therefore unacceptable that the CERB does not have specific regulations to permit the payment of SUB,” he said. “During this crisis, workers must be able to maintain their income. SUB payments are an important part of that equation.”

USW is calling for long-term EI reforms that must include: a reduced hours threshold and a higher replacement rate, with both applicable to parental/maternity leave; an extension of eligibility to migrant workers; and making expanded work-sharing a permanent feature.

“Under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) employers should be required to top-up the additional 25% of wages not covered by CEWS,” said Neumann. “There must be monitoring to ensure that CEWS is fully applied to workers’ wages.

“This program must not be used for stock buybacks or increases to executive compensation, and employers should be required to ensure that pensions are protected.”

Neumann told the committee that emerging from the current crisis will require a reversal of a manufacturing policy that has largely consisted of signing as many free-trade agreements as possible to secure markets for Canadian goods, while at the same time looking to import the cheapest products available and outsource supply chains.

“This has not only left us unable to manufacture critical medical supplies during this pandemic, it has left us with a weakened domestic manufacturing base,” he said.

“It is time to put a long-term industrial job creation strategy back on the domestic agenda.”

Neumann said the pandemic has exposed the shameful treatment of frail Canadians in long-term care as well as the extreme undervaluing of care providers.

“It is a national disgrace that these workers are underpaid and forced to work in environments that are not designed for social distancing, or even privacy for residents and workers.”

View Ken Neumann’s full presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance.

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For further information:

Ken Neumann, USW National Director, 416-544-5951
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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