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COVID-19, CERB and Canada’s Long-Term Economic Plans

by Mildred German

Filipina worker Nym Calvez bravefully speaks on Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during a CBC interview, May 13, 2020. Link to interview: cutt.ly/YyQKvx9
Filipina worker Nym Calvez bravefully speaks on Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during a CBC interview, May 13, 2020. Link to interview: cutt.ly/YyQKvx9

Unceded Territories (BC) - On Monday, May 25, nearly 200 organizations from across Canada launched a coalition campaign, Just Recovery For All, with demands to have COVID-19 pandemic recovery plans that move toward a more equitable and sustainable future, and for the government to put people first. 

“Indigenous rights and sovereignty must be the foundation upon which every aspect of Just Recovery is built. Throughout the recovery process, Indigenous Peoples must be at the table, as should voices from all structurally oppressed communities,” says Lindsey Bacigal of Indigenous Climate Action, in a statement.

Is It Ungrateful to Ask Questions About CERB and Long-term Solutions? 

Earlier this month, on May 13, Filipina worker Nym Calvez was asked by CBC’s Rosemary Barton how the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is affecting Calvez and other workers in the hotels and hospitality industry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Calvez’s response was heard on the national broadcaster’s virtual town hall, streaming live globally. And her interview went viral and in turn became the subject of online bashing and cyberbullying, exposing the deepening issues of Canada’s worsening racism, class divide, misogyny, and increasing poverty. 

The interview also opened more dialogue on Canada’s COVID-19 long-term plan. “The government helped us through the CERB, the $2,000 benefit they give us, but aside from that, there’s not much available for the workers and it’s pretty disappointing but we’re hoping in the long run or long term, the government will figure out something for the workers,” Calvez, of Surrey, BC, stated during the interview.

The Critical Need to Provide Long-Term Solutions: Poverty Reduction, Basic Universal Income 

As of today, May 26, there have been 14.74 million total CERB applications received from 8.21 million individuals, as per the federal government’s website. 

CERB applications opened on April 6 as Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally announced as a 16-week government program, its purpose was to quickly provide financial assistance to eligible Canadian citizens and permanent residents who needed it. There are, however, a number of restrictions on who qualifies, like recipients needing to have had income of at least $5,000 in the previous year. Still, the process for EI (Employment Insurance) benefits is longer and more tedious than CERB. Eligible CERB applicants receive the taxable $2000 monthly assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic regardless of unionised status or not. 

Many workers, communities, and their families are at high risk of unemployment and poverty due to the growing list of permanently closed industries. In a country as diverse as Canada, communities and work sectors also differ when it comes to their cost of living. 

According to Numbeo, a website that compares costs of living in global cities, the current estimates of a single person’s monthly costs before rent reaches $1,198 in Vancouver, BC; $1183 in Edmonton, AB; $1,071 in Winnipeg, MB; and $1,297 in Toronto, ON.

Since 2006, the First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition has explored the realities of low-wage poverty, unsafe working conditions, and child poverty. “A non-partisan coalition of 108 provincial and regional organizations who have united their voices to put children and youth first in BC”, First Call hosts The Living Wage for Families Campaign

Meanwhile, a “basic income guarantee (BIG)”, by Basic Income Canada Network, is another campaign to ensure everyone has an income sufficient to meet the basic needs and to live with dignity, regardless of work status by creating a basic income for all. 

Communities Of Remittances-Dependent Economies in Canada 

For many overseas Filipinos in Canada who send remittances to their families and loved ones in the Philippines, the job-loss due to COVID-19 also means a deeper global issue on the remittances and remittances-dependent economies as well. In fact the current COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted so many remittances services that the World Bank expects a 20% decline in 2020.

Phebe Ferrer, a Junior Research Scholar at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, published on their website on April 24 that “countries that are economically dependent on remittance inflows will be more likely to suffer sharper economic downturns in the context of COVID-19”. As the Philippines remains a top recipient of Canada’s remittances, along with India and China, Canada remains one of the world’s largest source of remittances. Ferrer explains that, “there have yet to be any significant disruptions reported in Canada’s remittances since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is likely due to the fact that many migrants living in Canada work in essential services like agriculture and health care.”  

Growing Concerns and Worries About the Canadian Government’s Long-term Plans are Valid. CERB Frustrations Are Over Eligibility. A Voluntary Refusal or to Resist Returning to Unsafe Jobs May Affect the Outcome of Receiving CERB. 

As of May 24, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada was 84,081, with new cases still being reported. With no cure or successful vaccine yet developed for COVID-19, the global quarantine and lockdown serve as a precautionary measure; wherein “To Flatten the Curve” is to avoid overwhelming hospitals, morgues, and graveyards beyond capacity. The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded as of today over 5.4M confirmed COVID-19 cases, and over 343,000 deaths worldwide

To date, the U.S- Canada border remains closed, international flights are suspended, and provinces such as B.C. have put camping prohibitions this summer in support of avoiding unnecessary travels. Also, there are reports around the world of recoveries and the updates on the number of COVID-19 cases in hospitals show signs of slowly going down, by which these are encouraging. Other countries are showing rising case numbers. There is no guarantee Canada is protected from the probability of large COVID-19 outbreaks.

With Canada's ongoing need for racialized cheap labour, extended in the name of “essential workers,” the COVID-19 pandemic also left employers with many opportunities where they can threaten workers with the loss of CERB if they resist returning to unsafe jobs. 

Such was the case with Cargill, a company that relies on the hard work of temporary foreign workers, many from the Philippines. The Alberta Cargill COVID-19 outbreak is the largest outbreak in Canada, with nearly 1000 reported cases. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the agribusiness giant’s meat processing plant reopened even though workers had valid safety concerns. 

With the pandemic and the conditions putting many people into mental health crises, including the stress and anxiety of being so exposed to the unsafe working environments of the possible coronavirus outbreak, how can Canada recover and advance its shaken economy? Who is the most affected? Who measures “essentialism”? 

A Dystopian Economic Meltdown

Canada has a long history of failing to enforce regulatory controls and safe protocols for all workers, long before this COVID-19 crisis began; particularly in the cases of many “essential”, temporary, migrant, and undocumented workers who are already subdued to 3D jobs many Canadian do not want to do, to fulfill Canada’s demand for cheap labour, and to keep the economy moving. With this, it is also critical and vital to look into the conditions of all workers, including their working and living conditions and the family separation many “essential workers” endure. 

In brief, if Canada wants a secure, sustainable, and long-term recovery plan, prioritizing the safety, status rights, and welfare of its labour force -- “all” workers, including their families, and communities -- has to be considered. That, or face lockdowns after lockdowns not only due to COVID-19, but also due to labour shortages and less consumerism if outbreaks continue to scare, sicken, and kill workers and consumers, many of whom are workers, too.

 


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