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Union hails expanded access to emergency benefit for media workers

CWA Canada is hailing today’s announcement that the emergency benefit program will now be extended to many precarious workers in the media industry.

Martin O’Hanlon, president of the media union, said the change is great news for thousands of precarious media and other workers.

“In a crisis like this, it is precarious workers who suffer the most,” O’Hanlon said. “We are very glad that the government listened to our request, and the requests of others, to expand the program. This should be a big help for many media workers in temporary, part-time or freelance jobs.”

“Now let’s hope this leads to structural change to create more full-time jobs and provide stability and employment standards to precarious workers.”

O’Hanlon, along with Carmel Smyth, president of CWA Canada’s largest Local, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), had appealed to three federal ministers on behalf of members and other workers who were ineligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) because of the zero-income criteria.

The CERB was originally intended to pay out to people who weren’t eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) and had lost all income for 14 days in the first month as well as in subsequent months. The program will now be opened to part-time workers and freelancers with up to $1,000 a month income, including royalties and honorariums.

The pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on workers who don’t have a stable living wage and do not qualify for financial relief, the union leaders wrote in an April 9 letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, and Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault.

“The problem is especially acute in the media industry, where precarious temporary and part-time workers make up a growing proportion of the workforce, including 25 per cent of staff at the CBC” who are members of the CMG, Smyth said. “Many struggle to make ends meet at the best of times; during this historic public health crisis, thousands are in dire financial need.”

“The random nature of the available work renders many precarious workers ineligible” for the CERB. “We therefore urge the federal government to expand the program so that more media workers are able to benefit.”

O’Hanlon and Smyth urged the ministers to “consider the positive impact this could have on one of Canada’s essential industries, where workers continue risking their personal health and safety to keep Canadians abreast of critical news at this historic time.”


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