VICTORIA -- The B.C. government is extending temporary layoff allowances for some employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses that require extensions are asked to apply for a variance to the Employment Standards Act online by Aug. 25.

"The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges across our economy," said B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in a news conference Thursday.

"One such challenge is keeping workers who are temporarily laid off connected to their workplaces to avoid permanent layoffs."

In the spring, the B.C. government extended the temporary layoff period from 13 weeks to 16 weeks and again extended it to 24 weeks in late June.

Those extensions were set to expire on Aug. 30. Now employers and employees can apply for further extensions on a case-by-case basis.

"We are encouraging all businesses who are interested in this option to apply as soon as possible before Aug. 25 to get their various decisions by the Aug. 30 extension date," Bains said.

The labour minister said the government has seen a steady increase in requests for longer layoff allowances and has trained 70 more staff to handle the influx in applications.

Employers and employees can apply for temporary layoff extensions here.

The province says the extensions are intended to maintain good working relationships between employers and employees and help businesses retain staff during the pandemic.

Approximately 30 hotel workers are currently on a hunger strike outside the B.C. legislature, asking the government to guarantee they will have jobs to return to once the economy recovers.

Bains said he has met with the workers outside the legislature and sympathizes with their cause but said many of those workers have collective agreements in place that were not anticipated when the pandemic began.

The province has hired a labour lawyer to assess the situation and advise the government on its next moves on Aug. 20.

The province said the new extension application process was redesigned to allow all the necessary documents to be submitted electronically, rather than through the mail.

Bains said the average application takes three days for an assessment to be issued.