On the heels of promising new job numbers from Statistics Canada, employment minister Carla Qualtrough said Canadians can expect to see another dip in employment figures as new shutdown measures take hold across the country to curb soaring COVID-19 cases.
The economy added 303,000 jobs in March as employment increased, StatCan reported on Friday, including gains in sectors that the pandemic hit hard.
“I don’t think next month’s job numbers will be as hopeful, because they will reflect the lockdowns that are happening now,” Qualtrough told The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson in an interview.
But, Qualtrough said, job numbers are “rebounding very quickly” after lockdowns.
Multiple provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have had to bring in new restrictions as COVID-19 variants swarm the country. The variants of concern are more contagious, doctors have warned, and often more serious than the original COVID-19 virus that shut down the country a year ago.
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Under their latest plan, Ontario has shuttered indoor and patio dining, allowing restaurants to stay open only for takeout and delivery. Retail businesses that have been deemed “non-essential” also have a capacity limit of 25 per cent.
Moves like these tend to push some Canadians out of their jobs, Qualtrough said.
“The (job) numbers will dip in the negative again because of this third wave and lockdowns,” she said.
Calls for sick pay programs continue
Meanwhile, for those who must still go into work every day, multiple advocates have been calling on provinces to bolster sick day programs to ensure workers stay home if they get sick.
While the federal government has introduced a temporary sick leave benefit that allows Canadians to claim up to four non-consecutive weeks of funds, some experts say the program is flawed.
“These people need immediate support. They need to know that they will be paid in their next pay cycle or very soon after that. Not many weeks down the road,” said Dr. Ann Collins, head of the Canadian Medical Association.
“They are supporting their families, and sometimes they’re supporting multiple family members, living in in the same home. So they need a more immediate type of response.”
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While it’s possible to receive the funds via direct deposit as soon as three days after applying, the payments can take much, much longer.
“If your application requires further validation, processing may take up to four weeks from the time we receive your documentation,” the federal government’s website says.
When pressed on these wait times, Qualtrough said most people find they can access the benefit quite quickly.
“The vast, vast majority of workers are getting it within three days, if they have a direct payment through CRA,” she said.
However, there have been issues with getting workers to actually claim the benefit in the first place, Qualtrough acknowledged.
“There’s a real disconnect that we’re trying to really dig in on,” she said. “I’m constantly out there trying to get people to really take advantage of the fact that there’s four weeks of sick pay for them.”
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As the federal government pushes to get workers to use the benefit and stay home when sick, the variants continue to race through Canadian communities.
“This is a life-and-death situation for many people,” Collins said, adding that variants of concern have “changed the ballgame entirely.”
“We often can sit in our own homes at a distance and just look at the numbers and so on, but … each case, each death is a person. It’s a family member. It’s an income provider in a lot of cases,” she said. “And that’s a tremendous loss.”
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