Workers lost in the shuffle in flood relief efforts

Aid must cover lost wages as well as damaged property

HIGH RIVER, AB – As flood rebuilding gets under way in earnest, and property owners begin to apply for compensation, Southern Alberta’s small businesses and employees are on the outside looking in. Many businesses have been forced to close, leaving some employees without an income for the foreseeable future.

“A loss of livelihood, even a temporary loss, can multiply the damage of a disaster like this, and make it more difficult for employees and employers to recover even long after the waters have receded,” Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) President Gil McGowan said. “The Alberta government has responded quickly to help many touched by the flood, but so far workers have fallen through the cracks because the federal government is not doing its part.”

The AFL is asking the federal government to modify Employment Insurance (EI) to better serve working people in this and future disasters. EI must be flexible in times of crisis if it is to be an effective safety net. The federal government should:

  • Waive the EI waiting period for all workers who have lost income during the flood
  • Streamline the EI Work-Sharing program to work for employers and employees as they slowly ramp up production to pre-flood levels

Small businesses across the flood-hit regions are struggling with an EI program too rigid to respond in a disaster. “I had to take our employees to the EI offices yesterday and I worry about how they’ll pay their bills since we’ve had to shut down. That’s been the hardest part for us,” local business owner Jane Miller said.

The AFL is also asking the Alberta government to expand the flood-relief debit card program to workers who have lost income due to business closures.

“Workers are worrying about buying groceries, and employers are worried about losing qualified staff who are forced to find another job,” McGowan said. “Expanding the debit card program to employees who’ve lost income will help both employees and employers get through this difficult time and focus on getting back to work as soon as possible.”

Workers at large and small businesses alike are hurting in the pocketbook from flood-related closures. A lack of potable water has kept Cargill’s High River meat-processing facility offline since the flood, leaving 2,000 employees without an income. “Cargill wants to hold on to its employees and we want to stay, but some workers may need to look for other sources of income if the plant doesn’t get back to full capacity soon,” said Albert Johnson, President of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1118, the union that represents 1,500 workers at the Cargill plant.

“Workers in flood-affected areas have been instrumental in stemming the losses and beginning to repair the damage,” McGowan said. “Government at all levels must make sure they receive the support they need.”


Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.9888 (cell)

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