Premier Sandy Silver announces $4 million in relief funding for Yukon businesses and workers affected by COVID-19 outbreak at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 16. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

UPDATED: $4M for workers, businesses in the wake of COVID-19, Silver announces

A chunk of this money is going towards paid sick leave for Yukon workers

The Yukon government has earmarked $4 million in relief funding for businesses and workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Premier Sandy Silver.

All workers belonging to every sector are entitled to 10 days of paid sick leave, he said. This falls in step with the 14-day self-isolation period for those who have symptoms consistent with the virus.

“The support that our government is committing today will help Yukoners,” Silver said on March 16. “It will help workers who do not have access to paid leave and it will support Yukon businesses negatively impacted by this situation.

“We are waiving and reimbursing certain government fees to reduce business operating costs and stimulate the tourism industry,” he said, adding that there will be a grant program so that businesses can recoup associated costs of the cancellation of events. “All workers’ compensation, health and safety premiums will be deferred, and pre-paid premiums will be reimbursed. We will enhance local tourism marketing efforts to support cultural industry by honouring transferring payment agreements.”

A business advisory council is to be established in order to study and brace for further impacts, Silver added.

To opposition leaders, however, the Liberals are dragging their heels. Both want more clarity as to how workers and businesses are to access this money.

“April rent is due in two weeks,” NDP Leader Kate White told reporters on March 17. “How many times do we have to talk about it or ask about it until the mechanisms are in place that people who need help now, or people who need help next week, or people who needed help two weeks ago can access the help they need?”

White said she has full faith in the work of public servants.

“My concern is that it’s being held up at the cabinet table. I feel like decisions need to be made and they need to be clear.”

There are other outstanding things the third party wants to see movement on. White has been fighting to ensure that workers in the private sector, many of whom may not have access to paid sick leave, aren’t left out — those in the restaurant and gig industries, for instance. Whether auxiliary on-call workers will be captured, too, and mortgage, rent and electricity-bill relief are details White intends to further press the Liberals on in the coming weeks.

“The reason why I’m talking about being proactive is deciding this in three weeks when people are floundering and their drowning in fear and debt and trying to figure out their next steps, being proactive is giving people the lifeline,” she said.

Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, weighed in on the matter too, saying it’s not the fault of departments. The Liberals, he said, are making announcements without mind to how to implement them.

“I think that’s really unfair to the bureaucracy to have to try and deal with a cabinet that’s just making decisions off the seat of their pants. …”

Silver told reporters that the number one priority is to get the money out to Yukoners “as soon as possible.”

“We are asking for a little bit of patience,” he said.

In what appears to be the most detailed information to date regarding how to access potential compensation for lost business revenues, the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board said it’s providing relief measures like revising payroll estimates — which, according to a statement it put out March 17, could result in lower assessment premiums.

“Employers may even be eligible for a refund of their 2020 assessment premiums if they have experienced a significant change in their account due directly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as: having projects cancelled, having bookings cancelled, or a significant decrease of staff,” it says.

Assessment premiums, the statement continues, could also be deferred “without penalty or interest charges to a date that is appropriate for an employer’s business situation.”

The premier also plugged the Liberals’ most recent budget. Corporate income taxes for small businesses are decreasing from two per cent to zero next year, according to the budget. This changeover could represent $2 million in savings for small businesses.

As of March 17, the spring sitting is to plug along as usual, with no anticipated interruption yet, the premier added.

“Whether we make it the full distance is anyone’s guess,” he told reporters. “If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on us going the full session, but we are having that conversation.”

See more of the News’ coverage on the Yukon and COVID-19 here.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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