The Canadian Union of Public Employees is urging the federal government to increase the accessibility of benefits for workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough on April 3, CUPE National President Mark Hancock called for significant changes to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to ensure more workers can access critical support during these unprecedented times.

Hancock laid out the numerous groups of workers who have been left out of the government’s announcements to date. Students and seasonal workers, who were unemployed prior to March 15 and just saw their employment prospects evaporate, are not currently covered by the current slate of benefits. Workers, including those working multiple jobs or those on contracts, who lost most, but not 100 per cent, of their income will not qualify either.

He also highlighted how the government’s benefits package disadvantages public sector workers compared to their private sector counterparts and compared to what they would have been able to access under Employment Insurance.

For example, there are thousands of CUPE members employed by municipalities, school boards, and post-secondary institutions, whose employers are losing significant amounts of revenue, but will not qualify for the 75 per cent federal wage subsidy. Layoffs in these sectors are already underway around the country.

Furthermore, many CUPE members will qualify for CERB, but may not be able to access top-ups negotiated with their employers that would apply to EI benefits. Allowing top-ups would permit workers to continue to access their prescription drug coverage and pensions.

“Your government has called on businesses to do the right thing and keep workers on payroll wherever possible,” said Hancock. “We ask that you extend that call to all levels of government and public institutions. And we ask that your government support them to do so, just as you are supporting private sector employers.”

Hancock recommended the government allow workers to certify a substantial loss of income, rather than zero income, and to receive negotiated top-ups to the CERB from their employer. He also called on the government to amend the definition of “ceased employment due to COVID-19” to include students and seasonal workers who have lost seasonal employment opportunities.