Healthcare employees still waiting on promised pandemic pay

Paramedics also wait on pay

UPDATED: 10:50 a.m.

Paramedics across the province are also still waiting on the pandemic pay wage top up, promised to more than 250,000 eligible frontline workers.

A letter recently addressed to B.C. paramedics from the Provincial Health Service Authority (PHSA) stated the pay is coming, but provided no exact timeline on when it will arrive. 

Paramedics who spoke with Castanet also voiced concern over how the pay will be applied when it does arrive, such as overtime hours not being taken into account. 

They say it's been a "very frustrating" process. 

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

Interior Health employees are fuming after months of waiting for government-funded, employer-distributed pandemic pay that has yet to arrive. 

The pandemic pay program was announced by the provincial government in May to support people working on the frontlines in B.C.'s healthcare system, social services and corrections. 

More than 250,000 eligible frontline workers were set to receive a lump-sum payment of about $4 per hour for a 16-week period, retroactive to March 15, in part of a cost-shared program with the federal government. 

After watching other workers receive extra pay as a thank you for their service, multiple IH employees from different professions within the health authority reached out to Castanet to share their frustration. 

All requested anonymity out of fear of retribution for speaking to media. 

"During this whole COVID experience staff throughout Interior Health have watched store employees get a boost in wage to show that store employees are appreciated," an employee told Castanet.

"We watched our PM promise up to $4 wage increase to front-line workers, hospital care home workers - a wage increase for 16 weeks, which still has never happened." 

Departments who have not received pandemic pay include nurses, medical device processing technicians and housekeepers/cleaners, one of which echoed the same sentiment. 

"We have yet to see our pandemic pay. We are exposed to COVID on a daily basis, have been here during the outbreaks and are constantly exposed to all other harmful viruses, diseases and illnesses. We are cleaning up bodily fluids from the emergency department, patient wards, operating rooms and all other areas that everyone who is actually sick are touching. 

"And where is our money? ... when we ask if/when we are ever going to receive it, there are NO clear answers. Why is it taking so long? Why can't they give us a date? For some reason I believe it's too good to be true. If we do receive it, I'm sure the tax man will take most of it. I'm sure we will pay it all back in taxes next season anyway. This is the thanks that we get for all of our hard work."

All of the employees we spoke with were of the understanding IH had received the government-provided pandemic pay on July 5, 2020, and has been withholding it since then.

They say that information was revealed to them during conversations with direct managers or union representatives. 

"There’s a consensus where we’ve all been told they have the money, and they’re telling us employers will start flowing out the money in the fall," another employee told Castanet.

"It’s like a carrot, just being dangled in front of you."

Staff also hold concerns that when the money is disbursed, it will be added to a regular paycheque instead of given as a separate lump sum payment, meaning employees may enter a different tax bracket for that paycheque and lose more in taxes.

However, according to Ministry of Finance senior public affairs officer Sonia Lowe, the funding has not yet been given to IH by the provincial government. 

"Funds have not yet been distributed to Interior Health and eligible employees have not received Temporary Pandemic Pay yet. The Province is coordinating with multiple ministry funders and hundreds of service providers across the province to ensure that the distribution of funds occurs as quickly and efficiently as possible. We expect funding to begin flowing to employees in the fall."

In light of that, it is unclear why so many IH employees are under the impression the health authority was granted the money by the Ministry on July 5, or what the source of the internal miscommunication may have been. 

When contacted, IH told us they are unable to comment publicly on the situation, instead referring to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health for clarification.

Castanet obtained an internal staff email addressed to all IH employees on August 18 by acting VP of Human Resources Matt Wilkie, which made efforts to clear up the confusion.  

"We recognize that many employees are interested in hearing about whether they are eligible for the Temporary Pandemic Pay Program (TPP) and when eligible employees can expect to receive the temporary wage top-up.  

"Interior Health is working with the Ministries of Finance and Health to ensure eligible employees at IH receive their TPP as quickly as possible. This is a complex process and we appreciate your patience. Once all of the information is received from health authorities and all contracted service providers across the Province, the Ministry of Finance will disburse the funding."

In the interim, employees were referred by Wilkie to general updates periodically available on the provincial government website

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