Not In This Together: Pandemic Widening Gap between the Rich and Poor

By Ivana Saula
Canadian Research Director

We’ve heard about and seen the direct impact of the financial fallout as a result of the pandemic, but it’s not widely reported that some businesses have profited from this disaster. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) issued a study that puts the effect of the pandemic on workers and top paid CEOs in sharp contrast.

The report found that a top Canadian CEO earned the entire annual salary of a typical worker at their company by 11:17 a.m. ET on January 4, 2020. Put another way, what average Canadians earn in a year, top paid CEOs earned before someone’s lunch break.

The CCPA gathered information from companies that trade on the TSX and earnings of their top CEOs. Interestingly, more than a third of the CEOs on the highest paid list work for companies that signed up for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which helped employers maintain workers on payroll. The subsidy covered up to 75% of a worker’s salary to a maximum, at one point, of $ 847 per week, while employers were encouraged to cover the remaining 25%. Most companies did not cover the remaining 25%, but instead paid generous packages to their executives. Keep in mind that 90% of CEOs earnings are not from their salary; the majority comes from cash bonuses, stock options, stocks, and other sources, which aren’t taxable and stay in their pockets.

The slogan that we’re in this together doesn’t ring true; some are profiting off this disaster and getting ahead, others are struggling, while others are falling behind and will need decades to catch up. While we’ve been told that people taking advantage of loopholes in emergency benefits are a problem, the real problem is being ignored; the rich are getting richer, inequality is growing and working Canadians are bearing the brunt of yet another crisis.

There is evidence all around us that we, working people, are under attack (you may be surprised that in Canada, the range for the middle class ranges from $ 45,000 to $ 130,000 annually, depending on the region.)

The strongest inoculation against this greed and systemic injustice is getting active in your community, and your union. Take interest in your collective agreement, a committee, political action, bargaining, lobbying because the sum of all these actions makes a difference in your life, and leads to change.

The situation may seem dire, and surely, ‘“not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” James Baldwin, American author, poet, playwright, activist.

Image source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives