Posted: Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Fewer than 40% of the 1.4 million unemployed workers in Canada today are receiving regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, a record low. The improved regular and training benefits that the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) fought for during the recession have long since expired.
Many unemployed workers have run out of EI benefits and many workers who were hit by the recession, as well as many young workers, women, and recent immigrants, have been able to find only part-time and temporary jobs which do not provide enough hours to qualify for benefits when they become unemployed.
Changes in the 2012 budget are focused on a quick return to low-wage work, rather than training for in-demand job skills. Changes to the definition of “suitable employment” mean that workers are expected to apply for and accept work at lower wages and working conditions, or risk losing access to their EI benefits. Workers are expected to take jobs that pay less—a 10-30% pay cut depending on how frequently they have received EI in the past. They will also be expected to take jobs that involve a commute of up to one hour or even longer in areas such as Toronto and Vancouver.
No new resources are being given to support skills training for unemployed workers and to support helpful interventions, such as job search counselling. Instead, workers will be able to sign up for twice daily electronic job alerts—a barrier for the 20% of Canadians without Internet access.
The budget bill ends some government pilot projects which will impact on high unemployment regions found mainly in the North, Quebec, and rural Atlantic Canada. As of September, unemployed workers in these regions will lose access to an extra five weeks of benefits, and some will no longer have their benefits based on their best 14 weeks of prior earnings. The "Working While on Claim" pilot no longer allows recipients to keep 100% of their first full day of earnings per week, instead clawing back all earnings at 50%.
The government also announced major changes to the EI appeals process in Budget 2012. A broad part-time network of over 900 local experts will be replaced by just 37 full-time specialists beginning in April 2013. There are serious grounds for concern that judgements on appeals by unemployed workers will be much less informed by knowledge of local conditions and the changing realities of the job market than is now the case.