WINNIPEG -- A new wage support program for local Manitoba employers hiring or rehiring employees is looking to encourage vaccinations.

On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister announced certain local businesses, not-for-profit or registered charities will be able to apply for a new 'Healthy Hire Manitoba Program.'

"Our program is designed to assist small businesses who have been cash-strapped, who are able to reopen as a consequence of the restrictions being lifted," Pallister said.

"Also to help people to come back to work safely by encouraging them to either get a vaccine or attest that they intend to get a vaccine."

The program will provide up to $50,000 to an employer to help cover wages of newly hired or rehired employees that have been vaccinated or will be vaccinated by October when the program ends.

"That will be a requirement to qualify for the subsidy for the employer," Pallister said.

"Many young people have not had a chance to get their second vaccination yet, but they may have the chance to attest that they are intending to, and that is the requirement."

Pallister said eligible employers will get a 50 per cent wage subsidy for up to 10 employees, with a maximum of $5,000 per employee.

Eligible employers will also be able to get a cash advance from the province, so they are able to hire or rehire employees back sooner, Pallister said.

He said the program will cover full pay periods for employees who started working on or after June 10, or for employees who have been rehired or were laid off due to the public health orders. The last pay period will end on Oct. 15, 2021.

"This isn't just for companies that are able to reopen now, it is (for) companies that are maybe reopening a bit now, and a bit later, and a bit later," Pallister said.

"The businesses that have been able to stay fully open – there are a few – are not qualified for this program because of the fact that they haven't been as affected by the restrictions."

The province said eligible employers must be active and permanently based in Manitoba, and physically operating in the province. Pallister said employers who are already getting support from other provincial programs could still be eligible for the 'Healthy Hire Manitoba Program.'

OPPOSITION SAYS PROGRAM 'NOT REALLY GOING TO MAKE A DENT'

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the program announced by the province is a continuation of previous provincial programs that have had too many criteria on it to be helpful.

"The concern that we have is that even though there is this new announcement from the province today, that this program is going to be undersubscribed, and it's not really going to make a dent in the sort of economic challenges that businesses are facing in Manitoba right now," he said.

Kinew said while the program for new hires is laudable, he would like to see a program to help businesses that have been open throughout the pandemic to encourage their workers to get vaccinated now.

Pallister said he expects the program – which earmarks $30 million – will be oversubscribed.

"We can't ever make up for the damage that this pandemic has done, we just sincerely hope that with these supports, we've positioned our businesses to come back better than they would have been able to do without them," Pallister said.

The province said more information about eligibility requirements and applications to the program will be released online next week.