Feds Must Rescind Punitive Income Restrictions for Thousands of Canadians: Steelworkers

OTTAWA – The United Steelworkers (USW) and unions across Canada are demanding that the federal government rescind its punitive ban on unemployed workers receiving supplemental payments from employers during the pandemic.

For decades, tens of thousands of Canadian workers have negotiated, as part of their collective agreements with employers, so-called supplementary unemployment benefits (SUB). Employers pay supplementary benefits as a partial top-up to Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, to help minimize a drastic income reduction for laid-off workers. In some cases, SUB plans also preserve workers’ health and other benefits.

However, the federal government has decided that, during the pandemic, it will restrict these longstanding supplements to EI benefits, and further, that workers must apply for the new CERB benefit, rather than EI. The decision adds insult to injury for many laid-off workers, given that the CERB pays $500 a week while EI would provide up to $573 weekly – meaning a further income loss of nearly $300 a month.

“The government’s new, misguided position serves no purpose, other than denying workers much-needed income that they have negotiated with their employers and that they have previously received during periods of temporary layoff,” said USW National Director Ken Neumann.

“These supplementary benefits are vital to working families who are struggling to pay the bills. They are not handouts. They are benefits negotiated by workers and paid by employers – there is no cost to government. In fact, these benefits are taxable, so they actually generate additional revenue for governments,” Neumann said.

The federal government’s position is perplexing and frustrating for workers, said USW Ontario Director Marty Warren. Some workers actually saw their SUB payments authorized by the government last month, only to see the approval rescinded, Warren noted.

“At the University of Guelph, a SUB plan negotiated by the university and 850 employees, members of the USW, was approved by Service Canada in April,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what has transpired since can only be described as puzzling. Human Resources and Development Canada stepped in and mandated that any claim for unemployment – for whatever reason – would be channeled through the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit. The net result was that a plan duly and properly negotiated with one arm of the federal government was effectively neutered by another,” he added.

“As a result, the University of Guelph employees, like thousands of others across Canada, are being denied a negotiated and badly needed income top-up during these extraordinary times,” Warren said.

USW and unions across the country, as well as the federal New Democratic Party, are calling on the Liberal government to do the right thing and fully restore authorization for SUB plans negotiated by workers and their employers.

Neumann appealed directly to MPs during an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance on May 5.

“Many Steelworkers members have bargained supplementary unemployment benefits. Indeed, the government has encouraged us to negotiate such benefits and it is unacceptable that the CERB does not have specific regulations to permit the payment of SUB benefits during this crisis,” Neumann told the committee.

“We strongly recommend a clarification of the rules to allow SUB payments without penalty under CERB. During this crisis, workers must be able to maintain their income. SUB benefits are important for this part of the equation.”


For further information:

Ken Neumann, USW National Director, 416-544-5951
Marty Warren, USW Ontario Director, 416-243-8792
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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