WINNIPEG -- Premier Brian Pallister announced on Tuesday an initiative to help residents get back to work, but there's a catch involving the federal COVID-19 benefit.

The province unveiled the Manitoba Job Restart program, which will give direct payments of up to $2,000 to help qualified Manitobans return to work.

Pallister said in order to be eligible, however, Manitobans have to stop collecting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and instead will collect the Manitoba Restart Benefit.

The province noted the federal government is subsidizing the wages of more than eight million Canadian workers through CERB and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). It said though CERB has helped residents through the pandemic’s financial challenges, it has also become a barrier stopping people from working.

Pallister added that CERB was “introduced out of necessity” at the beginning of the pandemic.

“This program specifically has been there to help Canadians with financial challenges that have been caused by the COVID pandemic,” he said.

“However, in our calls with the premiers and the prime minister, it’s become increasingly evident that the CERB program that we refer to, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, has some disincentives as well and it’s actually preventing some Canadians from returning to work on a full-time basis.”

Pallister added that people lose CERB if they earn more than $1,000 a month, adding that it’s blocking some employers and employees from resuming their work relationship.

“Under the Manitoba program, workers will be able to receive the $2,000 bonus regardless of how much they earn working,” the premier said.

The Job Restart program will be funded by the province and does not require contributions from employers. It will give an initial payment of $500, plus three additional bi-weekly payments of $500.

Here’s what applications must do to stay in this program:

  • Return to a job in Manitoba with at least 30 hours a week. This makes Manitobans eligible for the first payment;
  • Complete a declaration for each of the following two weeks, confirming they are still working at least 30 hours a week. This qualifies Manitobans for the additional three payments;
  • Applicants cannot receive CERB, CESB or similar support from the feds; and
  • Follow the province’s COVID-19 health guidelines in the workplace, live permanently in Manitoba, and be legally allowed to work in the country.

The deadline for applications for the Manitoba Job Restart program is July 31. The funding received will be a taxable benefit.

“The federal government is introducing on July 4 a requirement that anyone that wishes to continue on the CERB program has to attest that they have actively been looking for work,” Pallister said.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) welcomes the program from the province.

It says a survey of its members in late May showed more than half identified CERB as a problem.

"Businesses in Manitoba are certainly seeing this as a barrier, it's actually the top barrier to getting staff back to work," said Jonathan Alward, who is the director of provincial affairs for CFIB.

The NDP Official Opposition criticized the program.

“The Premier is trying to shame people on CERB to go back to jobs that aren’t there — after he’s made $860 million in cuts across Manitoba’s public sector, cut thousands of jobs and left businesses to fend for themselves with no support during the pandemic,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew in a written statement.

“His so-called support programs have been so unsuccessful that most of the funds allocated remain unspent. The fact the Premier appears to not know how many Manitobans could even qualify for this program shows just how little effort he’s put into it--he’s not interested in actually helping families or businesses, he just wants to look like he is.”

In a statement, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont described this announcement as “overcomplicated and filled with red tape.”

“It does not address part-time workers and will do little to help restart the Manitoba economy,” he said.

The premier also announced that businesses, who brought back workers after Phase 2, can retroactively apply for the wage subsidy program announced last week. This program allows employers to receive funding for up to five employees, with the government reimbursing 50 per cent of wages for a set time period.