CERB is not the problem
We are starting to hear from a variety of politicians, pundits and regular joes that CERB is going to keep us workers from wanting to get back to work.
It’s a story. A false story. A story that we need to rewrite. It’s a story of lazy, shifty workers who take advantage, pitted against the heroic business owners who do right.
The true story is that workers want to work. They want to be productive, to feel useful, to earn money and support themselves and their families at a decent level. COVID has people scared for their lives and for their livelihoods.
CERB is not the problem.
Substandard pay rates, inadequate health and safety protections, no paid sick days, no benefits, no social systems that provide real and adequate support for our injured, sick and vulnerable populations who are not able to work – these are what keep most of us from wanting to return to the workplace.
Let’s run those CERB numbers against reality and see if they are keeping us at home:
CERB is $2000 every 4 weeks, for up to 16 week, or $500/week.
Minimum wage in Ontario is $14/hour. 37.5 hours per week comes to $525 before deductions, but take home is $485. You have to hear $15.70 before your take home pay gets to $500.
The Living Wage in Ontario varies by region, $16.16 is the lowest in Sault Ste Marie, $22.08 the highest in Toronto. ($16.98 here in Sudbury.)
$15.70 is less than the living wage anywhere.
But wait, the angry straw horse of my imagination shouts, you can earn up to $1000 and still get your CERB payout!
If workers are earning $1000 or less, then that means they are back at work. So it wasn’t CERB that kept them from working. It was that fear of getting sick, infecting their whole family, and having no income at all and no support to be able to survive.
Workers aren’t the only ones getting income support at this time. Business and industry are receiving multiple millions through a variety of different programs for a variety of different sectors. Will we hear anyone crying out: “All this sweet subsidy money for business! It’s keeping our industries from getting back to production! Why would they produce more or innovate when they can keep their doors shuttered and earn just as much! “
No one will say that. Because our underlying story is that businesses want to do business. That they want to produce, to provide service, to do what they do.
When you introduce yourself to a stranger, what you do is going to be in the top 3 things you say about yourself. Which means that if you are a worker, your work is a key part of your identity. Many of us take pride in our work, in what we do, and we want to be engaged and active at work. Unfortunately for many of us, our work does not take pride in us. Precarious, unstable, low paying work is sadly the norm for many workers. We need to have more than one job to make ends meet, we have no job security, no benefits, no sick pay. Many of us are treated incredibly disrespectfully at work. Our scheduling needs are ignored, our concerns are dismissed, we’re treated rudely and worse, bullied, threatened and harassed.
CERB is not the problem. The problem is the false story that business is the hero and workers are the villains. That the bottom line is more important than health and safety. It’s time to write a new story, one that makes workers the heroes again.