Thousands of PSAC members worked tirelessly following the launch of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on April 6 to process over 3.8 million applications in the first five days. Deposits for the benefit, which total $2,000 per month for four months, started arriving in laid-off workers’ bank accounts within as little as two days.
Cumulatively, more than 5.6 million claims for financial support were received and processed between March 15 and April 10.
Before the launch of the CERB, workers filed nearly two million claims for support exclusively through the Employment Insurance (EI) program. PSAC members at Service Canada have now sorted through these earlier claims and converted most of them to the faster emergency benefit, allowing the EI program to more effectively serve other needs, such as parental and sickness benefits.
Zeeshan Ahmed is a PSAC-Union of Taxation Employees (PSAC-UTE) member at a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) call centre in Calgary who is helping thousands of people by phone from his home office. He is part of a virtual call-centre—now supported by more than 2,000 union members from other parts of the CRA who were redeployed voluntarily. Hours of operation have been extended into the evening up to 11 PM to ensure the public’s questions and concerns related to the CERB are addressed promptly.
“People call and they’re frustrated, they’re scared, they don’t know what’s going on,” says Ahmed. “But when you talk to someone over the phone and you’re able to help them in a tangible manner that affects their daily life, it’s extremely fulfilling.”
Meanwhile, PSAC-UTE member Normand Lévesque, working from the Winnipeg Tax Centre, is supporting the government’s boost to the GST/HST credit and the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) in response to the pandemic.
“Those of us that are still at the office are supporting the teleworkers. We’re distancing from each other, we’re all spread out,” explains Lévesque. “People are re-prioritizing what they do. Things that can wait, we’re putting on the backburner. But we’re still trying to get everything processed as quickly and efficiently and fairly as possible.”
New GST/HST credit payments began flowing on April 9 while the CCB boost will be automatically added to the May payment for eligible families.
PSAC members at Service Canada and the CRA have not had a wage increase for nearly three and over four years respectively and are currently working without contracts. The federal government should follow the lead of provincial and municipal governments who have quickly moved to settle contract negotiations with their staff during the pandemic.