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Alberta

Amazon to hire 15,000 employees across Canada; increase wages

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CALGARY — Amazon Canada will hire 15,000 new warehouse and distribution workers in communities across the country this fall to support its ongoing Canadian expansion plans, the e-commerce giant said Monday.

At the same time, Amazon also announced it will increase the starting wage for its front-line, hourly employees in Canada 27 per cent to $21.65 an hour from $17 an hour.

Existing employees will also receive an additional $1.60 to $2.20 per hour, starting immediately, Amazon said, regardless of how long they’ve been with the company. 

“We are growing very rapidly in the country,” said Sumegha Kumar, director of Canadian customer fulfilment operations for Amazon Canada, in an interview. 

“Our business is expanding a lot, and we want to continue to stay focused on our customers, so we obviously have needs around hiring and retaining top talent.”

Amazon Canada currently has 25,000 full-time and part-time employees in 25 communities across five provinces. The company is growing rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting explosion in online shopping. Amazon now has 46 warehouse, logistics and delivery facilities in Canada compared with 30 in mid-2020. More growth announcements are expected later this year, according to the company.

However, Amazon’s expansion plans come at the same time segments of the Canadian economy are experiencing significant labour shortages. According to Statistics Canada, the country added 90,200 jobs in August, bringing the country as close as it has been to recouping historic employment losses last year.

The Canadian unemployment rate fell to 7.1 per cent for the month, compared with 7.5 per cent in July, bringing the rate to the lowest level since the onset of the pandemic last year.

But not all those jobs are being filled. TD senior economist Sri Thanabalasingam said Friday that labour supply hasn’t kept pace with the robust demand for workers in high-touch industries like retail and food service, and that is resulting in staff shortages.

“Career changes, and ongoing health concerns could be possible reasons for the lack of available workers,” he said.

Kumar declined to say if Amazon is encountering a labour shortage in Canada, though she acknowledged “there are some places where we have more of an opportunity than others” to fill vacant positions. She said raising wages is one way to ensure the company stays competitive.

“We will always continue to look at how our market is progressing and make the necessary investments in our compensation structure,” she said.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced it will boost wages for its new U.S. hires to $17 an hour, as it seeks to add 75,000 new workers in that country.

Other companies south of the border, including McDonald’s, Costco and Walmart have also boosted wages to attract more applicants and keep up with a flood of customers as pandemic restrictions ease.

Amazon is also offering a $100 bonus for new and current employees who show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. The company dealt with ongoing outbreaks of the virus at several of its facilities throughout the pandemic.

Amazon has not mandated vaccinations for its employees.

— With files from Jordan Press, and The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 13, 2021.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

British Columbia won't take COVID-19 patients from Alberta: Dix

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VICTORIA — British Columbia’s health minister says the province won’t be taking COVID-19 patients from Alberta due to current demands on its own health-care system.

Adrian Dix says the B.C. Health Ministry told its Alberta counterpart Thursday that the province will help in other ways if it can and may be able to take patients in the future.

Alberta is facing a COVID-19 crisis that is threatening to collapse its health system, with 269 patients in an intensive care system set up for 173.

British Columbia reported 706 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday along with four new deaths linked to the illness, bringing the death toll to 1,877.

The ministry says in a statement there were 5,844 active infections across the province with 291 people in hospital, including 134 in intensive care.

It says close to 79 per cent of eligible B.C. residents aged 12 and up have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 86.3 per cent have received at least one shot.

“We are in a global pandemic, and our thoughts are with Albertans as they respond to COVID-19 in their province,” Dix says in a statement.

“We salute Alberta’s health-care workers, and all health-care workers who are working tirelessly to care for patients and protect people and communities in the face of great challenge.”

About 30 per cent of active cases in B.C. are located in the Fraser Health region, followed by nearly 26 per cent in Interior Health, 18 per cent in Vancouver Coastal Health, close to 15 per cent in the north and 11 per cent in Island Health.

There were 23 active outbreaks in health-care settings, including three hospitals.

The Health Ministry says people who have not received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine made up 81.5 per cent of hospitalizations due to the illness in the first two weeks of September, while partially vaccinated people represented 4.9 per cent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta business groups want more clarity around new COVID-19 restrictions

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Alberta businessgroups say a new program the province has launched to fight COVID-19 has been short on details while giving business owners little notice to make dramatic changes to their operations.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Thursday that their members have uncovered plenty of confusion as they scramble to make sense of the restriction exemption program Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday.

“Yesterday’s announcement prompted more questions than answers for our business community,” said Deborah Yedlin, the chamber’s president and chief executive, in a statement.

“Answers and clarity are needed urgently.”

The program Yedlin was referring to is meant to force people in Alberta to show proof of vaccination to enter non-essential businesses, including select stores, restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and libraries as of Sept. 20.

Businesses can opt out of the program but must operate at reduced capacity and with distancing rules or restrictions including no more than six people at a table in a restaurant.

Just after the program was announced, Annie Dormuth, the CFIB’s provincial affairs director for Alberta, was already hearing from owners confused about if they will have to apply to use the program or to opt out of it.

Others were concerned the government didn’t offer guidance or training to staff around how to check if vaccination proof is fraudulent or deal with unruly patrons who disagree with the measures. 

Some even lamented a lack of time to reorient their businesses and retrain staff for the new policies because the program has more exemptions than initiatives in other provinces and was announced roughly four days before it will go into effect.

“In the province of B.C., they were given a week and they were given support in the form of posters and guidance documents and here, we are three-and-a-half days away from this now and there’s not a whole lot of guidance being provided to business owners right now,” said Dormuth.

The lack of details is the latest challenge for small business owners who have spent much of the pandemic dealing with lower sales and fewer patrons.

CFIB estimates that small businesses in Canada now have debt totalling $139 billion due to COVID-19, a slight increase from the estimated $135 billion in February of this year. 

Three quarters of small businesses that took on debt believe it will take more than a year to repay. In the hospitality sector alone, 87 per cent believe it will take longer than two years to deal with their debts.

As business owners have struggled to deal with those debts, a wave of new COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed hospitals.

Seeing droves of unvaccinated patients, health-care workers intensified their calls for more stringent safety measures amid polls showing support for vaccination passports, but Kenney refused to heed their advice until this week.

“Jason Kenney has demonstrated himself to be a skilled contortionist, bending himself virtually into a pretzel in order to appease a small fringe but vocal group of individuals who are opposed to vaccination,” University of Alberta assistant professor of infectious diseases, Dr. Ilan Schwartz, said at a Wednesday press conference held by Protect Our Province.

The organization comprised of health-care workers has long urged the government to take the pandemic and the fourth wave more seriously by retaining basic measures like isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19.

Despite Kenney finally edging toward more measures, the group remains disappointed with his new program and its lack of clarity, and fears it will do little to quell the virus.

Dr. Schwatz said, “We’re left with a hodgepodge of measures that are confusing, and consequently, they’re likely ineffectual.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2021.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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