I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number seven of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Pursuant to the orders of reference of March 24, April 11 and April 20, 2020, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
At the end of yesterday's meeting we had an exchange where I wrongly ruled against a point of order raised by Mr. Albas. I have since consulted with the clerk, and I can now assure the committee members that it will not be repeated. Every member has the right to determine which witness answers their question. Only witnesses get to answer questions, and it's the witness who is identified by the member. That is not what happened yesterday, and that was through my error. I have apologized to Ms. Kwan and Mr. Albas for that, and I now do so publicly.
Should any technical challenges arise, for example, in relation to the interpretation, or if you are accidentally disconnected, please advise the chair or the clerk immediately and the technical team will work to resolve them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times, as we need to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
Mr. Vaughan, did you have a point of order before I introduce the witnesses?
I will speak more slowly. If there is something, please interrupt me again.
I was just saying that the regulated sector is limited to a few major industries for the Canadian economy. I'm talking about interprovincial and international transportation, banking systems, telecoms and, in some respects, the federal public service. It's important because it provides an indication of where we actually have an impact and a role to play. For the rest of the economy, the provinces and the territories will exercise their jurisdiction.
The last thing I want to note is that I'm aware that my colleagues Graham Flack, the deputy minister of ESDC; and Lori MacDonald, who is the chief operating officer for Service Canada, were here yesterday and the week before to answer some broader ESDC questions related to their mandate. I'm pleased to be here today with my colleagues to answer questions related to the labour program.
Maybe I'll just step back a minute to give a broader context and then answer your question very directly.
We're responsible for regulating the federal entities, and that's roughly, in the occupational health and safety domain, 8% of the Canadian workforce. It includes, as Chantal said in her opening remarks, some of the larger employers that you'd be aware of in rail, air, etc. It does not include some of the other activities that are provincially regulated, like long-term care facilities or hospitals, for example.
Having said that, within the federal domain, our occupational health and safety approach is based on a concept called the “internal responsibility system”. This is very key and is consistent with the other jurisdictions' approaches as well, where no one knows the workplace better than the folks who work in it, and that includes both the employers, as you would expect, but also the employees—
What I would like to share with the committee is that, while our operational posture should pivot, our procedures remain the same, because we have a very good approach to dealing with all types of risk, including biological risks. Some of the operational posture changes that we made, including suspending in-person proactive activities, do not suggest that we don't do proactive work, but we ourselves could be a biological risk. We're a vector for an organization, so our interest was in restricting movement so that we didn't cause problems for the organizations we were inspecting.
We also, in early March, suspended without special reasons visits to vulnerable communities, including indigenous communities, because we were similarly concerned that we could spread COVID-19 through our interactions with those communities. Having said that, we have focused very significant effort on our posture, specifically as it relates to the complaints and, as you would expect, refusal-to-work complaints.
We work very closely with our colleagues at Transport Canada and the Canada Energy Regulator because they have occupational health and safety responsibilities as well. For Transport Canada, it's for on-board activities in the marine, the aviation and the rail sectors; and for CER, as you would expect, they relate to pipelines. We also then, obviously, worked with stakeholders to make sure that they were reminded of their responsibilities around a hazard prevention program and updating those plans. I think that, with some of the good work that was done, more folks were better prepared than they otherwise would have been.
I think that, like every enterprise, at the beginning people were not totally sure what to do, but what we've found is that our employers have stepped up really quickly to address the risk of COVID-19. As you can imagine, the federally regulated sector involves international transportation. It was one of the vectors of the crisis, so airlines and the ports were some of the places where people started worrying about this the soonest and started taking action. At that time, some of the guidance was still evolving, so we really have seen them step up.
What we see too is that the employees themselves and their unions have raised concerns, and we've seen a lot of very constructive discussion where employees and employers get together and say, “We're not sure what to do in this case; we used to do it that way. I'm very close to my co-worker. Are there different ways of doing it?”
We've seen everyone trying to find solutions that are very practical because each workplace will be different in terms of what it is doing. People have stepped up; people have adapted. We see, in some cases, that teleworking has also been a way of reducing risks.
In a way, the federally regulated sector is one of those that, because it's so critical, has maintained operations throughout the crisis, unlike others, so they will be impacted by some of the reopening, but they have maintained most of their operations.
I don't know, Gary, if you want to add to this.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations.
Today is International Workers' Day, and we are hearing from Department of Employment and Social Development officials. This provides an opportunity to acknowledge that we understand everything that had to be done and that is yet to do in response to this unprecedented crisis. We must never forget that 8 million Canadian workers have found themselves in a very difficult situation. I do not think you have forgotten, but I still wanted to mention it.
You touched on the topics of health and safety, which are federal jurisdictions, as is the topic of psychological health in the workplace. Here, in Quebec, the economic recovery will happen slowly. The Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail has produced some guides and is providing support for businesses. We saw what happened at health care facilities.
My question is one that you, or the Minister of Employment and Social Development, get often. Service Canada has completely shut down its offices, and many people have been critical of that. There are federal employees, and people need services. Now that there are clear health and safety rules, can we hope to see the offices open back up in the short term, with the necessary workplace health and safety measures in place?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to first raise this point. When the officials say that it is the employer who knows best in terms of workplace safety, I would argue that it is the employees who know best, because they are the people who are going to be put at risk in this situation.
From that perspective, when people ask for personal protective equipment, I think they should be provided that equipment.
As a case in point, I received an email from a worker in Quebec. The worker works in a different sector, and because Quebec has a mandatory redeployment policy, all these workers are being redeployed to another area, which has been deemed mandatory. They are not trained and are ill-equipped.
People are very stressed in that situation. They feel that if they do not abide by that mandatory redeployment requirement, they will lose their jobs; they will be fired.
The email I received is very lengthy. It is from someone who is in that situation right now. The individual also further explained by way of copies of emails that have been exchanged between the worker and the employer, and on the issue around personal protective equipment, and so on, not being available, the response was basically saying, “Good luck; this is what you have to do.”
I'd like to get a response from the officials on that. How do people deal with those kinds of situations? If they're put in an environment that they feel is not safe, they're ill-equipped to do that work and they are forced to quit because they are made to do it otherwise, what will happen to them?
If you voluntarily leave your job, you would not qualify for CERB or for government assistance.
Thank you very much for the question. It raises a lot of very important issues.
The first one I'll tackle is regarding who knows best. I will agree with you, partly, that the employer and the employees together know best. What I will say is that the employer has more tools to address the issue, but the employees or employee representatives have key roles in identifying the risks and defining the solutions. A fundamental aspect of occupational health and safety is that both sides have to work together to find solutions.
I do want to come back to the PPE, and I'll turn to Gary again, but I want to say something. In a workplace, people have to work through the risks and identify how to mitigate the risks. It may be that in some cases people do need PPE and that PPE is required, but there are often other measures that are also essential to have in place. We know a lot about social distancing, and we see these plexiglass barriers that protect, so depending on the workplace, it's a combination of changing the work process, some equipment and potentially some PPE. All of that leads to a solution.
The final thing we should address to answer your question is the fear of reprisal, and the fact that people may feel that they could lose their job or that they have to work in dangerous situations. There are provisions in the code to prevent that.
I'll turn to Gary to give more details. Our answer will pertain to the federally regulated sector—that's our scope—but most provinces have very similar legislation.
I'd like to reinforce that the internal responsibility system that our code is based on requires the involvement both of the employers and the employees. The objective is for them to collaboratively identify all the risks—in this case, the biological risks—to eliminate the risk if it's possible to do so, and if it's not, to minimize the risk to the degree possible.
To Chantal's point on PPE, and this may go to an earlier question received in the committee, certainly if PPE is a requirement to help minimize the risk, which it may or may not be, the employer is to provide it, and the employees are to receive training and in many cases fit testing, to make sure that it works for them in their circumstances.
In the event that it is required and is not provided, employees have every right in the federal jurisdiction to refuse to work, to try to resolve it internally within their organization, and if it's not possible to do so, to escalate the concern to us, and we would investigate.
I hope that's helpful.
Thank you. I will endeavour to pass that information on to the individual, and perhaps they can be directly in contact with your ministry to resolve the situation.
It sounds to me to be quite a serious situation, and it's not just one worker; it's a group of workers. As well, in their situation, their collective agreement has been suspended, so that means their protection per the collective agreement would not apply. This is very concerning on many levels, and I hope this can be resolved.
I also want to emphasize the importance of this and perhaps this could be passed on to the other departments. I think it's really important for people to have the assurance that if they feel they have to voluntarily leave their work for these reasons, they would qualify for CERB.
On a different note—and I wonder whether or not this is the right place to bring the concern—I have received yet another email from another constituent, and in that situation, the individual is being asked to collude with the employer to misrepresent the situation for the purpose—
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, it's a pleasure to be with you today virtually to talk about an update on the measures taken by the government to address the COVID-19 pandemic as they pertain to my portfolio.
I'd like to highlight that today is International Workers' Day. Today, we recognize the millions of workers who go to work every day, and we're reminded of their health and safety at work and how important their health and safety is. This is true now more than ever in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'd like to thank the committee for its study on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your work is essential to our democratic process. I know the value of the work that you do. In fact, HUMA was the committee that I sat on.
I'll start by summarizing the support measures the government has taken for workers, and in particular essential workers. Some exceptional, but necessary, measures have been taken to protect and support Canadian businesses and workers during this crisis.
Businesses across Canada have had to dramatically alter or shut down their operations in an effort to help flatten the curve, and this has had an enormous impact on employers and workers alike. To help Canadian workers impacted by COVID-19 put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, the government introduced the Canada emergency response benefit. I am aware of the fact that my colleague, the , has already appeared in front of the committee to discuss this benefit.
To ensure that workers can take time off work to deal with situations related to COVID-19, such as school closures and self-quarantine, we've also created a new leave under the Canada Labour Code, and we are waiving the medical certificate requirements to make it easier for federally regulated workers to access existing leave benefits. While the new leave is unpaid, workers taking it may be eligible to access the Canada emergency response benefit.
My colleague, the , has been leading the work being done to provide extra income support to our essential workers during this very critical time, if they're earning less than $2,500 a month. These are people on the front line in hospitals and nursing homes, those ensuring the integrity of the food supply, or those providing essential retail services to Canadians. They all play a vital role in providing essential services to Canadians. Their work is essential to our country's well-being, and on behalf of all Canadians, I'd like to thank them for the very important work they do.
Now, I'd like to say a few words about what we've done with leaders in government, labour and industry regarding the support for workers and employers during the COVID-19 crisis.
I am in constant contact with labour and employer organizations in all sectors so that the government can be abreast of concerns on the front lines.
I led a conference of the federal, provincial and territorial labour ministers to coordinate efforts across government to make sure that workplaces for essential workers remain safe during the COVID-19 crisis. We also recently met via teleconference with employers and representatives from labour to discuss the steps we've taken so far to ensure that workplaces are safe, workers are protected and businesses and the Canadian economy are as strong as they can be. This meeting resulted in a joint statement underlining the need for collaboration on the part of labour, industry and government to make sure that workplaces remain safe for Canadians, for Canada's essential workers.
We agreed that the situation continues to evolve, and we must remain flexible and adaptable in how we respond. Above all, we must continue to work together. Working together will yield better results because we can share common goals to protect the health, safety and well-being of Canadian workers. We are also collaborating so that Canadian businesses are able to come back and ensure the economy can recover by getting people back to work safely after the crisis ends. We're going to continue to work together to achieve these goals today and down the road.
I'd now like to talk about the measures the government is taking to protect the health and safety of all Canadians. Pursuant to the Canada Labour Code, employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees in the workplace.
Working with employees and health and safety committees, employers are required to update and create their own hazard prevention programs, including measures to ensure employees are not exposed to conditions that would be harmful to their health and safety while working.
We know that exposure to COVID-19 is a new phenomenon. We also know that we must take this matter very seriously. We encourage employers to seek guidance from appropriate authorities, including the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization, for information on preventative measures that should be taken.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, under the direction of its CEO Anne Tennier, has been doing excellent work in response to the COVID-19 crisis. They have very rapidly developed a series of pandemic guidance tip sheets and made them available for free on their website. These pandemic tip sheets offer guidance and good practices for specific occupations, industries and services for both employees and employers. The CCOHS has also provided an online space called Pandemic Info Share. This enables businesses and organizations to share their pandemic-related good practices and resources.
We know that employers are following guidance and measures from the appropriate authorities, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, to make sure their employees are safe during this critical time. We also know that most employers are doing their best to accommodate reasonable requests from employees who are grappling with the wide-ranging disruptions caused by COVID-19, and I want to thank them for their efforts. For example, there are many workers who have to stay at home to care for their children who are out of school. In some cases they are able to complete some or all of their work from home.
That being said, I know there are many employees who are nervous every day about heading back to work or restarting work. That is why we've reached out to employers and their representatives to remind them of the employers' responsibility under the code. If there is a risk of exposure to COVID-19, employers have an obligation to identify and assess the risk and implement proper controls through their hazard prevention programs. Employees subject to part II of the code have the right to refuse work if they have a reasonable basis to believe their duties present a danger to health and safety. Every workplace and every situation is unique and when a refusal to work cannot be resolved internally, the labour program will investigate.
We are committed to supporting and protecting workers and businesses. As I mentioned, the government has taken a number of unprecedented but necessary steps to support Canadian workers and businesses during this COVID-19 outbreak.
As we continue to monitor the ongoing and continuously evolving situation, we will remain open to exploring additional measures that could further help workers during this time. That means continuing to work with leaders from labour and industry and with other stakeholders to ensure that what we have in place right now is working and, of course, is corrected if need be. We are committed to ensuring that workers and businesses have the protections and support they need, while keeping essential goods and services flowing to Canadians.
With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my preliminary remarks. Thank you very much for your attention.
In the first round, we're supposed to try to figure out how to make the time for questions move equally among all committee members, as this is a parliamentary committee, not question period. With all of these points of order, the distribution of questions has not been fair to parliamentarians, and I'm contributing to it with this point of order. We all have to represent our constituencies and the organizations in our ridings, and these points of order have effectively cut off several questions for opposition members. I know the Green Party, which is asking for time, will never get time under these circumstances.
Quite often, I don't think it's a point of order that is being raised. I think it's a filibuster tactic, quite frankly, and I find it very offensive to the privileges of members of the committee. We know we only have two hours, and I think this is a delay tactic. It's used to run the clock. I would like that to be considered when points of order are raised, because it's becoming quite obvious what's happening here.
In addition, as a point of privilege, we know that interpretation is difficult, so when people talk over each other and try to interrupt each other, it is impossible to listen in this format and makes the situation even worse. We have a responsibility to listen to each other as much as we have a responsibility to talk, and I think when talking over one another happens, the time should be taken away from the next opposition member on the same side down the line, because it's an offence to all of us.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Minister Tassi, thank you for joining us today. This is such an important issue.
This past Tuesday was the national day of mourning for workers who have been injured or lost their job. During this pandemic, so many Canadians are working on the front lines. Whether they're health care workers, grocery store clerks or truck drivers, they are all putting themselves in harm's way so that Canadians can survive this crisis.
Minister, protecting Canadian workers is of paramount importance to everyone, and that's obvious today. A number of concerns have been raised about how workers can protect themselves and what the government should be doing to ensure their safety.
As you mentioned in your opening remarks, you are taking additional measures as we start to reopen our economy. I would like to hear about those additional measures. What do you think we'll have to navigate over the next few weeks and months?
I'm very happy you made reference to the day of mourning. The Speaker began the first day, when we had our first session, with that acknowledgement. It was really important and very good to see, as it was for us as members of Parliament to take the time to acknowledge those who have suffered injuries or loss as a result of workplace situations.
With respect to protecting workers, there's no question; first and foremost, it's really important to talk about the collaborative piece. Collaboration on this file is extremely important. Right from the beginning, I reached out to all my provincial and territorial partners. I had individual calls with those partners, and subsequent to that convened an FPT meeting, where we gathered together to talk about issues. In that meeting, I brought to the table the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. That was really important, because from across the provinces and territories there was this issue about wanting evidence and standards or tips in order to provide workers with what they need to keep them safe on the front lines.
That meeting was very helpful. As a result of that, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has now created sector-specific tips. The evidence-based approach on the PPE is critical, because we want to ensure that we're using the PPE the best way we can. These sector-specific tips, which are based as well on the Public Health Agency of Canada's guidelines, are giving employees the recommended protection they need in order to carry on safely. That was very important.
In addition to that, the has committed $2 billion to purchase PPE so that PPE can get to the places it needs to be distributed. We're working with the provinces and territories on that.
In addition to this, the has started this plan to mobilize industry launch. Here it's about companies stepping up who have expertise and are able to assist in this regard. I think this is so important. In my own riding, I have had companies come forward who were making, for example, sports apparel and who now want to make gowns. That's happening across the country, which is fantastic. There have been 2,900 conversations instituted as a result of that. With the option of trying to get Canadian products, 22,000 companies have come forward and submissions have been made with respect to getting that product available.
In addition to that, as I said in my introductory remarks, we instituted an unpaid leave. That was about ensuring that federally regulated workers who take time off because of COVID-19 do not lose their jobs. We also waived the medical certificate requirement, making it easier in these very challenging times.
Those are some of the initiatives.
Minister, I thank you for the work you are doing.
I know that since you took on this role, you've made it a priority to speak with your workplace health and safety counterparts, including your Quebec counterpart.
This situation is worrisome. There is a lot of talk about how we've had to adjust and implement programs in response to the crisis that hit us all on March 13. I'd like to talk to you about the concerns of two categories of workers. There may be more, but I'd like to discuss two categories in particular.
I'll start with the tourism industry. This industry will be hit hard during and after the crisis. In Quebec, we're talking about 400,000 jobs. I imagine that number is much higher when you add in the rest of Canada.
I've spoken to stakeholders in this industry, and as you know, their revenues are earned within a short period, but their expenses go on all year. They are worried that the recovery will be slow. The tourism industry has some specific demands. One demand is that it wants the government to consider expanding the 75% wage subsidy over a longer period.
Could workers in this seasonal industry be considered permanent workers for an entire year?
These are issues of concern. I'd like to know how you're working with the other departments. I know that the works with the Department of Employment and Social Development and, as I was told earlier, the Department of Finance.
How are you working together on these issues?
Thank you for your question, Ms. Chabot.
Thanks also for your kind words and for the level of collaboration you have demonstrated. I know we have had a meeting and you have been very gracious with your time in terms of providing me with input as we move forward, and I deeply appreciate that. This is another example of that.
I take your points with respect to tourism. You know that in my portfolio the focus is on health and safety of workers. That said, I work across my departments and ministries in order to ensure that, when we recover from this, the best recovery is possible.
The measures the government has put in place have been all about, first, protecting those who are most vulnerable, who need help immediately, and second, trying to continue the collaborative relationship, or the relationship that exists between employer and employee, so that after COVID-19, when we're in the recovery stage, those relationships can continue. That means providing supports such as the wage subsidy, CERB and rental relief. All these measures are about when we hit that recovery stage, to ensure that workers and employers can continue and recover quickly, because we want a strong recovery from this.
I want you to know that I've heard your concerns in regard to the tourism industry. In my conversations, I've heard those concerns and appreciate that input.
The topic of tourism workers comes up often. We know that they had access to the Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB, but these workers found themselves in a black hole with EI. They're very worried and are wondering how they will be able to become eligible for another period of EI.
We'd like to know whether this issue will be addressed and resolved. Will they be eligible for EI benefits in the future?
I'll conclude by asking a question about pension funds, which I asked to the officials who were with us this morning.
We know that some businesses will make it through and others will struggle. Unfortunately, some will go bankrupt. Workers could see their pension plans affected. La Presse had an article this morning on this topic regarding Resolute Forest Products.
We want the federal government to make sure that if a company goes bankrupt, the pension plans will be protected and will considered priorities. How are you working with the Department of Finance on this matter?
Thank you for that question.
In terms of a follow-up on whether there's going to be requalification, I will say that this is an evolving situation. You've seen the measures that our government has implemented. We continue to respond to the situation as it evolves in order to protect workers. We want to, of course, give a restart to all those companies. Tourism is a big sector. We will continue to look at the situation.
I appreciate your concern with respect to the pension funds. You know that in my previous ministry as minister of seniors, this is something that was very important to me. I will say that we will continue to work across ministries in order to do the best we can to protect seniors.
Some of the initiatives that we implemented as a government were very important, for example, rolling back the age of eligibility for the OAS and the GIS. That gave seniors two years of extra funds. There was also the $100 million for the new horizons for seniors program. These are all programs that support seniors.
I hear very clearly what you are saying, and I want to let you know that we absolutely want to protect seniors.
Yes, because it is a labour problem. Collective agreements should be abided by.
The next one I want to touch on is what our last speaker from the Bloc touched on.
Many financial advisers have given out warnings and have said that after this recovery stage, if we ever get out of it, many companies will go bankrupt. In the media, we've already had some financial advisers warning people and companies that the easiest way to stay afloat is to file for bankruptcy.
Knowing that there could be a spike in all these bankruptcies coming forward to get out of that debt, are we taking any action to protect workers? As the legislation is written, these would leave workers behind, not only on pensions but also on severance payments, termination payments and vacation pay. Most of the people who are on EI now will have had it run out.
If these companies do go bankrupt and they claim bankruptcy—we know this is going to happen—what are we doing to support the workers? Are we looking to change the legislation on bankruptcy protection and put workers first?
Thanks, MP Duvall, for that important question.
I would say this is a situation that is evolving continuously. What we have done as a government is we've put in place targeted measures. For example, CERB was for those individuals and families who went from a paycheque to nothing; they needed to put food on the table and they needed to pay rent, so that's what we have done.
As we move through the process, in terms of protecting, we are continuously looking at anyone who falls through the cracks, at those individuals who need more assistance.
On the point you're raising, I would say that the measures we have implemented have been very specific, with the intention of trying to help companies survive this, so that when recovery comes, they can recover. That's why we have the implementation of the wage subsidy. We want companies to get through this. The federal government is providing 75% of wages to employees. The reason we're doing this is that we want that company to get through this difficult time.
The other measures we've taken are with respect to rental supports, liquidity and loans for small businesses. They can borrow up to $40,000 and have 25% of that—$10,000—forgiven. All of these initiatives are about tackling the very thing you're talking about, which is trying to keep businesses going so that those workers will have work and so those people who have dedicated so much of their effort to creating a business are going to be supported in the recovery stage to get that business to come back.
Scott, I know this is something you have advocated for a long time. You and I have had many conversations about this. I appreciate those conversations.
This is what I would say. You and I are on the same page in terms of protecting the worker. We want to ensure, at the end of the day, that workers who have committed years of service are protected. Having said that, with respect to the superpriority, which is something you've advocated for, I have concerns about that particular approach.
However, there has been a commitment that I have made to you that we are going to continue to work on this. In fact, in the last budget, there was money set aside so we could continue to work on this. This is in addition to this pandemic that we've hit now, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on this matter. It's not specifically my portfolio, but as you know, it's a matter that's very important to me.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon from Saint John to all of my friends and colleagues.
Minister Tassi, it's certainly great to see you. As you alluded to earlier, we did a lot of great work on HUMA in our first term as MPs. We did the poverty reduction study. We did the temporary foreign workers study. We did a lot of significant studies that certainly had a strong and meaningful impact on Canadians' lives.
I want to ask you a question, Minister, about essential workers.
Certainly, what we've seen over the last couple of months has opened my eyes, raised my awareness and certainly raised my appreciation of front-line essential workers and the serious, essential role they play in our economy. They're not just health care workers. They're grocery store clerks, security people in the mall that my office is in, taxi drivers, pharmacists, take-out workers, hardware store workers and truck drivers. These workers are out there every day, putting themselves in danger at times to ensure that Canadians are fed, get supplies and are taken care of.
I believe it's important to acknowledge the important work that these essential workers, these great Canadians, are doing, and how they're contributing to our society and our country. Minister, can you please elaborate on the federal government's plan to recognize these amazing workers for their work on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19?
MP Long, thanks for that question.
I think it's very important that we take a moment to recognize the times we're in and the dedication and commitment of workers across this country. There are workers who have gone into this and assumed roles where there might be some level of risk. I think of health care workers. The pandemic has raised this to a whole other level. Then we have other workers who now have this risk, some of whom you've mentioned, whether they're driving trucks, stocking shelves at the local grocery store or working at the checkout counter so that we can put food on our table.
We want to show them that we appreciate what they're doing and that we want to support them. These are absolutely unprecedented times. We wanted to, as a federal government, demonstrate the support and the gratitude and appreciation that we have.
The federal government has announced that we will be working with provinces and territories to provide a top-up of salaries for various essential service workers. This is something that is, again, very collaborative. It's going to be worked out with each of the provinces and territories. Ontario and Quebec, I think, sort of have a framework. I don't know that it has actually been finalized, but the idea here is that we want to recognize the heroic work. I'm very happy that you've asked the question.
In addition to this—I think of, for example, some students who are working at the local grocery store part time—we've also allowed workers who earn $1,000 or less to be able to collect the emergency response benefit. I think this is really important, particularly for workers such as PSWs, who were working three positions and are now down to one. They can earn $1,000 at their work and still be eligible for the emergency response benefit.
The last thing I would say on this relates to the point that MP Doherty brought up. It's about my conversations with stakeholders. I have to tell you that my time is spent in dialogue and in conversation, across party lines, with my PT partners in labour and industry. I am getting input first-hand from these groups. There was a real need to recognize the work that these front-line workers were doing.