Service sector

Return to CERB-level financial support needed for service sector, says Hamilton restaurant worker

Hamilton restaurant worker believes a return to the level of funding previously offered by the Canada Emergency Benefit (CEP) would greatly help food industry workers and businesses as the province grapples with a record number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Omicron variant.

The ECP ended in October 2020 and was replaced by the Canada Recovery Benefit, which ended in October of this year. The government launched the new Canada Worker Containment Benefit (CWLB) on December 17.

Like previous programs, the program is designed to provide temporary income support during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is only available to workers who cannot work due to a local lockdown designation.

There is no official closure in Ontario at this time that forces restaurants to close, but following the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, some restaurants in Hamilton and the Niagara region have closed restaurants. inside, claiming that they lack customers and are concerned about the safety of their staff.

The Martello restaurant on James Street North in Hamilton did so last week, laying off all staff except for its manager, chef, and JM Turenne, the pizza chef.

Turenne believes he will recover if he is infected with COVID-19, but he fears losing his income if he becomes ill.

“If I got [COVID], the biggest fear would be to lose two weeks of income, which for me is not really a sustainable option, ”he said.

“And that’s why I think a lot of people in this industry and a lot of people overall, like minimum wage workers… you kind of find yourself in a situation where you kind of have to choose between your stability. financial and doing something very reckless, like going to work when you might be sick. “

We have already lost a lot of [servers and cooks] of the sector. Although we are just coming back now, they never came back.– Andrew Berry-Ashpole, Hamilton Hospitality Project

Turenne, 33, says he has worked in the industry for 16 years. He thinks that “some kind of comprehensive support system” is what is needed, where “the government supports businesses and employees financially.”

“I know the government has lowered the requirements of its new program [the CWLB], but… it’s supposed to be more of a supplement for a semi-lost wages, as opposed to like CERB which was supposed to be just full coverage of those lost wages, or at least the government’s capabilities at best.

“The current program is, I believe, $ 300 per week, which is about $ 1,200 per month and, I mean, an average apartment in Hamilton costs about $ 1,000 per month,” Turenne added.

With the CWLB only available to workers who cannot work due to a local lockdown, no one in the country met the eligibility criteria when it launched. As of this week, 10 regions were listed as eligible, all in Quebec and the Northwest Territories.

Successful applicants would be eligible to receive $ 300 per week and may request the benefit until May 7, 2022.

Some workers are “desperately afraid”

Andrew Berry-Ashpole, an advocate for the Hamilton Hospitality Project, said even with the new CWLB, the uncertain nature of the pandemic has left some workers “desperately scared”.

“We have already lost a lot of [servers and cooks] of the sector. Although we’re only coming back now, they never came back, ”Berry-Ashpole told CBC Hamilton.

“You have the ones who like to hang on and now they’re really scared.”

Berry-Ashpole, who is also a chef at Victoria’s, said paid sick leave should be the foundation of any worker-centered approach to helping workers and businesses weather the pandemic.

“I think the Ford government’s program, the temporary three-day program, is just not enough and it’s unrealistic given the current climate,” he said of the delivery. The province’s COVID-19 worker income protection, which has been extended until July 31, 2022 and requires employers to give employees up to three days of paid leave for pandemic-related reasons.

“Right now everyone is informed that at the first hint of a sniffle they have to stay home. Great, so they stay home and…, to take a PCR test. So what is three days like? they supposed to help?

“Those three days are not enough. You know, I think at least a week of paid sick leave,” he said.

As for the Canadian worker confinement allowance, it will be available to employees in all regions where there are more than 50% capacity restrictions and who have lost more than half of their income, according to the Prime Minister. Justin Trudeau. A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada told CBC News on Friday that applications will be possible from 2022.

Employers with capacity restrictions of 50% or more and facing income cuts of 25% or more for the current month can apply for the new, expanded local foreclosure program, which provides wage subsidies of 25 to 75%. % based on income loss.

Expanded eligibility is expected to cost $ 4 billion, the government said in a statement.