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A worker is seen cleaning surfaces inside Little Mountain Place, a long-term care home where 41 residents have died since a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the facility in November, in Vancouver, on Jan. 7, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Hospital housekeeper Lerma Diapera says she and her coworkers were amazed last May when B.C. announced that about a quarter of a million front-line workers would receive a “financial boost” of $4 per hour – an appreciation for keeping people safe during the first four months of the pandemic.

Ms. Diapera, a chairperson for a local unit of the Hospital Employers’ Union covering staff at five Lower Mainland hospitals, noted that she and 200 of her cleaning colleagues were first promised by their management that the bonus would come at the end of last July. It still hasn’t come.

In fact, up to 15,000 workers like her are still waiting for the extra pay. For Ms. Diapera, a single mother of two who makes $17.10 an hour, the bonus would bring in about $2,000 after taxes.

“We wait and wait and we’re really really frustrated about it,” Ms. Diapera said. “At least we can use that money during the pandemic – buying something to maintain our families, to be safe at home, cleaning supplies, those kind of things.”

When the pay bump was announced last year, then-finance minister Carole James characterized the temporary increase, funded by the province and Ottawa, as helping out those providing vital support.

As of last Friday, B.C. has distributed $300-million in these bonuses to 203,000 workers.

But the Finance Ministry, which is distributing this money to employers to give to workers, said last week that it is still processing claims from about 400 companies to pay out up to 15,000 more front-line workers. The province could not provide a breakdown of how many of those still waiting work in prisons, health clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, temporary homeless shelters, supervised injection sites, group homes and a number of other eligible workplaces.

In a Jan. 22 update to workers and their employers, the ministry acknowledged that it should not have taken this long and chalked the delays up to the “administrative complexities” of establishing a program with hundreds of different employers.

”The province apologizes for the significant impact this delay has had for everyone affected,” the online statement says.

Mike Old, a spokesperson with the HEU, which represents about 50,000 members across various parts of B.C.’s health care system, said the bonuses were an important acknowledgment for these workers. He estimated that up to 20 per cent of his union’s members have not yet received the extra pay.

People directly employed by one of B.C.’s five health authorities were the first to get this money, Mr. Old said.

But for other workers – even unionized ones – who work for companies subcontracted by long-term care homes and in hospitals, the extra layer of management has delayed the province from tracking down those eligible, Mr. Old said.

“It is really sad that the lowest-paid health care workers in the system have had to wait so long,” he said.

Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, said his industry group began pushing the province in December to speed up these payments after the delays became apparent.

Mr. Lake, a former provincial health minister, said this week that the province has assured him that 98 per cent of workers in his sector have received these bonuses. These payouts could have been sped up considerably in his sector, he said, by having the health authorities – which contract nursing-home services to private operators – disburse these bonuses instead of the Finance Ministry.

”It was much more cumbersome and why they made that decision I don’t know,” he said.

Lisa Leslie, head of communications for the Finance Ministry, said subcontracting in long-term care has added a layer of difficulty to the payout process, but the months of delay are largely due to the challenge of getting this money to “hundreds of thousands of employees and hundreds of different employers.”

The province has investigated complaints from frustrated workers, she said in an e-mailed statement, but in every case, the employers have been administering these bonuses appropriately.

Ms. Diapera, a 56-year-old single mother with two children still at home, says her manager told her two weeks ago that – for the umpteenth time since last summer – the money will arrive shortly. About 100 food-service workers in her local unit recently got their payments.

Ms. Diapera says she often returned home from work with tears in her eyes during the first wave of the pandemic and doffed her work gear outside because she was petrified of bringing COVID-19 home to her two kids. She says she fought the urge to quit during those harried months.

“I thought I should have the guts to keep on going and help people and help the hospital to make sure everything is safe and clean.’”

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