The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory.
The program has been extended to February 15, 2021, the Yukon government announced Nov. 24, and provides low-income essential workers with a wage top-up of up to $4 per hour for 16 weeks, or a top-up that brings their hourly wage to $20 an hour.
The original wave of the program began on March 15, part of a number of programs that came in response to the economic impact of COVID-19. Essential workers who received the benefit during the initial program period are once again eligible for the program, making the total eligibility 32 weeks.
“This wage top-up has been so important to Yukon’s essential workers and we are happy to extend it. I strongly encourage employers to register for this program. Yukon workers providing essential services have continued to come to work despite the stresses and risk of interacting with the public, and we thank them for supporting all Yukoners through these challenging times,” said Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai in a statement.
All services that have been identified as critical or essential in the territory’s guidelines for the delivery of critical, essential and other services are eligible with the program available to both full and part-time employees.
Essential services include healthcare workers and caretakers, restaurant employees, retail clerks including grocery stores, agriculture workers, news organizations, energy industry workers, transportation of goods, call centres and construction fields.
Under the program, employers must apply on behalf of their staff and may choose when the 16-week benefit is applied between October 15, 2020 and February 15, 2021.
More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program, according to the government, and $1.2 million in funding was claimed for 1,300 employees since the program began.
Pillai said almost half of the workers supported by the program were employed in retail, while another 39 per cent were in accommodation and food services. Health and social assistance received around five per cent.
In the legislature on Nov. 24, NDP leader Kate White suggested that the format of the program — which requires employers, rather than employees to apply — is leaving some essential workers behind.
“A problem with the wage top-up program was that only employers could apply on behalf of employees, and some workers had to pressure their employers for months before they completed the paperwork. Others were not so lucky and never received the top up because their employer didn’t apply to the program. So how is this fair to them?” she said.
“These workers deserve support, whether or not their boss has wanted to fill up government paperwork,” White said. ”I can’t say it enough, we’re still in a pandemic.”
White is tabling a motion on Nov. 25 in the legislature to extend the wage top-up program for essential workers beyond 16 weeks and modify the program so employees can apply directly if employers don’t apply on their behalf.
The motion will be debated in the House, likely later in the week.
Pillai responded that the program was designed that way in order to be more efficient. He said the department worked closely with the chambers of business across the Yukon to educate businesses. He said while the department is not proactively looking for employers who do not apply, both employees and opposition parties can come forward with concerns.
“I make a commitment to work with the leader of the third party and identify if there’s been anybody missed as we lean in to continue to do this good work,” he said.
In the first phase, employers received $50 per employee in order to cover “administrative costs.” Pillai said he heard from employers that amount was insufficient, and has been upped to $100 per employee.
“Why (employers) may not have taken on this program previously, is maybe some of the administrative costs. So we’re also going to address that,” he said.
Employers looking to start an application for the program can do so by contacting the Department of Economic Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 456-3803 or 1-800-661-0408 ext. 3803.
Pillai also indicated that workers who feel they should qualify but are not receiving the funds should reach out to his department in order to rectify the situation.
With files from Stephanie Waddell
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