The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner

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More than 45,000 Nova Scotian health care workers will qualify for a top-up to their wages if they worked during all four months of the pandemic from March 13 to July 12. But it’s still unclear when they will receive the money and exactly which jobs will be eligible for the $2,000 taxable benefit. Opposition leaders Gary Burrill and Tim Houston have been calling on the McNeil government to provide more clarity about the bonus it announced May 8.

Late yesterday afternoon, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness briefed unions and employers on the disbursement of the $94 million “pandemic premium” — $80 million is federal money — to reward the extra risk and work shouldered by workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Workers receiving the bonus include those at the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre and in long-term care, home care, home support, residential care workers in the Disability Support Program, transition houses, shelter workers, and emergency health services”, said Health Department communications officer Heather Fairbairn. Lab workers, public health staff, and 811 operators will also get the top-up.

A union official contacted by the Halifax Examiner says it appears only workers who had direct contact with residents or patients or the public will qualify for the extra pay. This means people who serve meals would get the pandemic pay but not those who prepare them in the kitchen. Cleaners would qualify but not power engineers who maintain heating and cooling systems in the building.

It will be up to employers to determine how soon people get their money. The system sounds complicated. Employees must sign a declaration or invoice indicating they worked the time. Their employer will forward the invoice to the Department of Health. If the invoice is received by Department of Health prior to an August 31 deadline, the worker could receive their $2000 sooner than that.

Employers such as hospitals or nursing homes can choose to advance or “float” the payment to their workers and recover the amount from the Department of Health later. That decision is up to each employer. The Department of Health expects to be able to begin releasing the money by September 30.

Health care workers who worked at more than one place can only claim one premium, no double-dipping. Union officials expect plenty of calls over the next few days from members hailed as heroes but still seeing zeroes when it comes to putting money in the bank.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. I know of someone who works for one of the employers listed as administrative staff and was advised they were an essential worker during the pandemic, and was denied a leave of absence due to child care issues. Under these new vague guidelines, they are ineligible for the top-up bonus, because they are not deemed “essential”. Anybody who works in healthcare, regardless of department, is an essential worker, because let’s be honest, if there were no administrative staff in the hospitals, not a heck of a lot would get done.