The Employment Insurance program must be there in tough times like these for those who paid into it. Laid-off workers need adequate benefits to support themselves and their families while they search for a new job. Over the past year, too many of the over 500,000 workers who lost their jobs due to the recession fell through the cracks of our broken EI system.
Ottawa collects EI premiums and has built up a huge surplus of $57 billion since the mid-1990s, the result of deep cuts in benefits paid to unemployed workers and rules that prevent most unemployed workers from qualifying for benefits at all. In 1996, the maximum weekly benefit was $604. Today’s maximum is only $435, and the average benefit is just $335 per week.
In 2006-07, only four in ten unemployed workers, and even fewer women, qualified for EI. Those who do qualify are eligible, on average, for just 32 weeks of benefits. Some who do qualify are only eligible for a maximum of 14 weeks of benefits. Canada lags behind other industrialized countries in worker training. We must increase access to labour adjustment programs and training.
What needs to change..
The federal government must:
- Provide regular benefits on the basis of 360 hours of work,
- no matter where workers live and work in Canada.
- Raise benefits immediately to 60% of earnings calculated on a worker’s best 12 weeks.
- Increase the period for which benefits can be collected to a maximum of 50 weeks.
- Invest part of the EI surplus on better training and labour adjustment programs.
- Expand support and funding for work-sharing arrangements under EI to reduce layoffs, and build links between work-sharing and training programs.