‘It’s time to shift gears on the federal support programs to encourage people to rejoin the labour force’
Despite record unemployment numbers, many employers are facing significant staffing challenges, according to Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
The group is calling on the federal government to implement changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) programs as economies continue to reopen.
“While it’s too early to do away with CERB, it’s time to shift gears on the federal support programs to encourage people to rejoin the labour force,” he says.
The CERB program was introduced as part of the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan to support businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent survey by the CFIB found 26 per cent of small businesses have rehired some of their laid-off staff while eight per cent are hiring new workers. Almost one-third (31 per cent) have received the wage subsidy, with another 23 per cent are in the process of pursuing it; and 76 per cent of those using the wage subsidy said it was very helpful in addressing their challenges.
However, 37 per cent of the employers still have concerns related to staffing (layoffs, retention, refusal to work) while 48 per cent have laid-off staff temporarily and 10 per cent permanently.
On Twitter, “Darew265” said it offered 10 people jobs for 30 to 35 hours per week, working from home, but they only wanted to work 10 hours per week so they didn’t lose the CERB.
“CFIB is hearing this from many small biz owners,” said Kelly on Twitter. “Fortunately, [the government] has proposed CERB benefits will end if an employer offers a worker to return to work.”
The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer recently released a report with proposed changes around the CERB that included a phase-out for the benefit of $0.50 for each dollar of employment income above $1,000 per month.
The federation is urging all parties to move forward with proposed legislative changes to put guide-rails around CERB, “especially the rule against staying on benefits when your job is offered back,” and challenges with the CEWS, said Kelly. “These are needed changes and will help the economy recover.”
Almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) of small business owners supported the move, found the CFIB survey.
The CEWS program runs retroactively from March 15. Employers must have lost between 15 and 30 per cent of revenues to qualify. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the federal government has extended the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) by an additional 12 weeks to August 29, 2020.
The CFIB also warned that the uneven reopening of the economy will create additional barriers to workers going back to work. Almost one-half (44 per cent) of business owners indicated that their employees’ childcare challenges complicate their return to work.
“We fully expect this to be a messy recovery requiring flexibility and understanding on everyone’s part,” says Kelly. “In order to get Canadians back to work, government needs to quickly announce its plans for CEWS changes as it puts additional guidance around the use of CERB.”
In mid-April, the government announced it was expanding the CERB to cover more Canadian workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late in May, the federal government asked stakeholders for feedback for potential changes to the CEWS program, including potential adjustments to the 30-per-cent revenue reduction threshold and extension to the program. The consultation period ended on June 5.
Thanks to the federal government’s CEWS, food service and facilities management company Sodexo is bringing back 1,500 furloughed workers.