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Unemployed Americans who have turned down job offers because they feared their prospective employers weren’t providing sufficient protection from the coronavirus would qualify for jobless aid under a directive the Labor Department issued Thursday.
The measure would also expand a federal unemployment benefits program, established in last spring’s economic relief package, to cover workers who have lost hours or who were laid off because of the pandemic. It would also cover school employees who lose jobs or work hours because of school closings.
The federal program, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, made the self-employed and gig workers eligible for jobless aid for the first time.
“Until now, unemployment insurance benefits during the pandemic have been too scattered and too uncertain,” said Patricia Smith, senior adviser to the labor secretary. “That begins to change today, with many more workers now eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.”
Speaking to reporters, department officials declined to estimate how many Americans would now become newly eligible for jobless benefits.
The benefits will be made retroactive, officials said. People who applied for unemployment benefits after Dec. 27 can receive retroactive payments back to Dec. 6. Those who applied before then and were turned down can receive retroactive payments dating back to when they first applied.
With unemployed Americans now receiving a $300 weekly federal payment on top of state benefits that average about $320 a week, the retroactive aid could result in significant lump sum payments. The department estimates that states won’t be able to update their jobless benefit systems to include the new criteria until late March, which could mean that the first payments would amount to about four months of benefits.
Workers whose employers have closed because of the pandemic are already eligible to receive jobless aid from the federal program. But workers who were laid off even as their company remained open, such as waiters at a restaurant that stayed open for delivery, weren’t eligible. This directive will now cover those workers, the Labor Department said.
For the unemployed who have turned down jobs out of concern over the coronavirus, applicants will have to state under penalty of perjury that their prospective employer wasn’t meeting state or local guidelines on mask-wearing or personal protective equipment, said Suzi Levine, a deputy assistant labor secretary.
OTTAWA—The latest Canadian Construction Association newsletter reports that the federal government through Employment and Social Development Canada is looking for input on potential updates to the Canada Labour Code to accommodate gig workers.
Labour Minister Filomena Tassi has issued a request for information, “citing COVID-19 as having exposed a number of vulnerabilities for gig workers and those that rely on them for essential services.”
The government is seeing input on the experiences of gig workers in federally regulated sectors including those who work through digital platforms such delivery or freelance work; and how federally regulated workers could benefit from a “right to disconnect” from their cellphones after they finish their workday.
The initial consultation period is open until April 30. Further consultation with employers, unions and other stakeholder organizations will follow in the third quarter of 2021.
WELSH campaigners condemned employers of insecure and gig-economy workers today after a report found that they were twice as likely to die from Covid-19.
The Morning Star reported today that TUC research had linked insecure work to a much higher risk of contracting and dying from Covid-19.
Welsh Labour’s Senedd candidate for Pontypridd Mick Antoniw called for the devolution of the Health and Safety Executive powers to Wales and pledged new powers.
He said: “The pandemic has exposed the consequence of 10 years of funding cuts of the Health and Safety Executive. There is now a real need to devolve health and safety responsibilities to the Welsh Parliament.”
Wales TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “It is incredible that, over a year into the crisis, the UK government still fails to recognise both the practical and moral case for fixing our broken sick-pay system.
“No matter your race, gender, disability or background, everyone deserves fair pay and to be treated with dignity and respect.”
PCS union regional secretary Darren Williams said: “The research highlights the point that it is the same sort of bad employers who deny their staff job security who are also more willing to expose workers to unnecessary risk of Covid.
“We have many members who work in outsourced roles. These workers are often employed in agencies like the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] in Swansea, where management decisions have contributed to 600 staff testing positive for Covid and one person tragically losing his life.”
Unison Cymru lead for social care Mark Turner said: “Over 60 per cent of care in Wales is provided by the private sector. That’s why Unison is calling for a publicly delivered national care service in Wales.”
Mr Antoniw said that while employment is legally reserved to the Westminster government, the Welsh administration can promote socio-economic change and ethical employment standards through procurement policy.
“This is what underlies the draft Social Partnership Wales Bill, which is currently out for consultation,” he said.
“Putting the current partnership of government, trade unions and business on a statutory basis and using the leverage of public spending to drive ethical standards, worker representation and promote collective bargaining, it is an opportunity to use Welsh powers to drive change and bring working conditions for many into the 21st century.”
In recent months, concerns around working conditions and precarious employment have been voiced by workers at several major companies including Uber, Hermes, Amazon and Deliveroo. They are among millions of gig workers in the UK who have continued to drive, deliver, clean and cook – among many other services – throughout the pandemic.
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