WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government is enhancing its program to help businesses bring back their employees laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Brian Pallister made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday.

“This program, the Back to Work job subsidy program, has been a key component in our economic recovery and it’s going to continue to be,” the premier said.

The province’s Back to Work initiative is aimed at getting private sector and non-profit employers to either bring back laid-off workers or hire new people. Through this program, the government reimburses 50 per cent of wage costs, up to $5,000, per employee hired or re-hired between July 16 and Oct. 31, 2020.

Now, with the enhanced program, the province is doubling the number of employees eligible for this subsidy. The initiative will allow businesses, non-profits, and charities to receive a subsidy for another 10 full or part-time employees, on top of the current total of 10.

The province said by doubling the number of employees from 10 to 20, it also increases the maximum level of financial support for a business from $50,000 to $100,000.

“We anticipate as the economy continues to recover, there will be additional demand,” Pallister said.

“We’re seeing that in our reports each week from our over 50 different business and industry groups are telling us that is beginning to happen and encouraging that to happen is obviously part of our role.”

As of Aug. 25, 445 employers have submitted applications for 2,427 employees through the Back to Work Manitoba initiative, coming to over $12 million in financial support.

Applicants of the Summer Student Recovery and Back to Work This Summer programs are open to apply to this initiative as well to make additional hires, but positions that are already getting funding from other federal or provincial programs are ineligible.

“I would encourage small business owners, potential employers in the private sector or non-profit, charity roles to visit the Restart Manitoba website for detailed and information and I would encourage them to take a leap of faith and bring back as many staff as they think they can,” Pallister said.

Jonathan Alward, director of provincial affairs for the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the “more help the merrier,” but noted it won’t be the smallest businesses that take advantage of this program expansion.

“A lot of the smallest businesses in particular, especially those that still need a lot of help to survive the rest of the pandemic, I don’t think it’s going to be benefitting them the most,” he said, adding that many of the smallest businesses don’t need to bring back 20 employees, as the enhanced program allows.

“A lot of businesses that are hardest hit will still be able to benefit most from the federal wage subsidy program.”

Alward said one of the biggest problems facing small businesses in Manitoba is cash flow.

“The funding for this program to subsidize the employees doesn’t come until after the program is done and after you’ve paid the employees out,” he said.

“So it might be a luxury that a lot of businesses don’t have right now.”

Alward said small businesses still have many needs amid the pandemic, including cash flow problems, rent assistance, and grants to help with the costs for COVID-related compliance.

“I think (the province) really needs to offer a new grant to help with a lot of those costs related to COVID-19 compliance, especially with the increase in active cases across the province,” he said.

“This could be a good investment for businesses, (to) help us better live with COVID-19, keep staff and customers safe, and ultimately help improve consumer confidence, which is one of the biggest threats still facing small businesses.”

The application deadline is Oct.1, and employers have to provide proof of payment by Jan. 4, 2021.


In a statement, NDP Finance Critic Mark Wasyliw said the province has announced multiple “failing programs” for businesses, which have amounted to a total commitment of just under $300 million.

Wasyliw alleges that only about one-third of this money has been used, leaving $190 million unused.

“That's money that should be put towards our schools to keep class sizes small and help keep students and teachers safe,” he said.

“Today Pallister also refused to commit to using federal emergency funding for its intended purpose: to make schools safe for kids and teachers and to keep class sizes small.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement the province doesn’t realize businesses have experienced major revenue reductions and can’t hire more people.

He added the Manitoba Liberals have been calling on the government to help small businesses with personal protective equipment, emergency revenue, and overhead costs.

“The reality is that many businesses cannot possibly operate under the current pandemic rules, especially the hospitality industry,” he said. 

- With files from CTV’s Jeff Keele.