What do you think of the proposed changes to Employment Insurance?
On Cross Country Checkup: changes to EI
Employment insurance has been called the third rail of Canadian politics ...touch it and you die. The government is proposing changes to encourage repeat users to consider other options. Critics say it will hurt seasonal workers. What do you think of the plan?
With host Rex Murphy.
With the possible exception of health care and pensions there is probably no other program in Canadian politics that is met with the height of emotion and concern than the Employment Insurance system. Today we want to talk about the government's proposed changes to that system. Originally Unemployment Insurance -- that name was changed the last time the Liberals made big changes to the system in 1996 ...and went on to lose thousands of votes in the subsequent general election -- it was designed back in the 1940's to offer workers a bridge in tough times ...a hand up when someone lost their job and needed money to pay the bills and time to find another. But over the years it was expanded and it came to represent also a form of income support for seasonal workers, whose industries only operated part of the year and would layoff workers annally for months at a time.
After some leaks and trial balloons over the past couple of weeks, the government released the details of its plan for the future of EI. They surprised many because of expectations that the new rules would be tougher ....that they would require EI recipients to move to another part of the country for a job ..or that highly skilled workers might be forced into accepting unskilled jobs. Well there were no such dire changes but there are enough to alarm some people and start a discussion about what the whole EI system ought to be designed to do.
The new rules take aim at repeat users by encouraging them to look farther afield for a job ...within an hour's commute ...and to accept a slightly lower level of pay. The government says foreign workers are being imported into the country to do jobs that could be filled by some people who are collecting EI.
Critics have called the changes an attack on seasonal workers. They say workers pay into the system as insurance and they have the right to collect when they need to. Seasonal industries ...forestry, fishing, and agriculture, say if all their workers are forced to go elswhere for jobs during seasonal layoffs, the workers might not be available to the industries when the season starts up again ...and that will damage the economy.
Business groups say Canada is suffering now from labour and skills shortages, and it must make sure that all workers willing to work are directed to jobs ...even if it means moving or extra training. They say to do otherwise will damage Canada's competitiveness relative to other economies.
What do you think? Is this a case where the larger needs of a national economy run up against the personal needs of individual workers? Is it fair to build-into the system incentives to move to find a job? Is EI the best way to support seasonal industries and seasonal workers?
We want to hear your thoughts on the challenges of finding ...and keeping a job ...and we want to hear whether the EI rules take your own reality into account? If you run a business, we want to hear what it's like to keep your business staffed and running ...do you have trouble finding workers ...or are you forced to layoff workers on a regular basis? What is the best way to balance supporting individuals in need ...while at the same time avoid the pitfalls of creating conditions where EI becomes more attractive than work itself?
Our question: "What do you think of the proposed changes to Employment Insurance?"
I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
- Jason Fekete
Senior parliamentary reporter, Postmedia News.
President of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.
President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Former Finance Minister of Saskatchewan, now Professor of History and Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.
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- If the Tory EI reform plan is too radical, why did the Liberals go so much further? by Andrew Coyne
- New EI reforms show there are 'work-shy' living in every province, John Ivison
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- If Elizabeth May can get off EI, others can too, by Kelly McParland
- Graphic: The difference in EI use between provinces
- Is the EI system making it more attractive to not work?
Globe and Mail
- EI: An inequitable system that distorts the labour market, by David Gray
- The Conservatives tamper with an EI way of life, by Jeffrey Simpson
- As provinces balk at EI changes, Flaherty says let's talk
- Sweeping EI changes usher in three new tiers of jobless workers
- Atlantic premiers say EI changes an attack on seasonal workers
- Editorial: Sweeping EI reform deserves scrutiny of Commons debate
- EI recipients expected to accept work within an hour's drive
- Why fixing what's really wrong with EI won't be easy, by Barrie McKenna
- N.S., PEI premiers voice anxiety over EI reform
- Federal study suggests moving EI recipients to areas with more jobs
Halifax Chronicle Herald
- New rules will force repeat EI users to take lower-paying jobs
- EI changes spur outrage and accolades
- EI reforms: Open discussion needed at a national level
- EI rule changes could hit seasonal workers in N.S.
- No lack of fingers to point as EI arrives at crunch time, by Marilla Stephenson
- Red and orange ridings feel Tories' EI blues, by Chantal Hébert
- Canada's winter EI blues: Ottawa's proposal strikes a chord but misses the beat, by Colin Busby
- EI changes driven by contempt and ideology, by Thomas Walkom
I'm a single father with a seven-year-old daughter. I drive a school bus, my daughter's bus in fact. This means that I can bring her to work with me in the morning and I don't need to pay for child care. It's a huge savings to us. Being a bus driver also makes me a seasonal worker (not much call for bus drivers in July and August). Frankly, I'm scared. Will I be required to get a job that allows me to pay for child care? Who will hire me at $25 an hour for two months? I'm really not sure what's going to happen.
I think there needs to be guidelines to EI. For example, if you make $50,000 or more (after taxes), then you shouldn't get EI. You should learn how to manage your money. And no one is going to hire someone to only work during their off season. I'm sure they would rather hire a full-time employee.
Moncton, New Brunswick
It's insurance isn't it? Why not charge those industries that repeatedly lay off workers a higher insurance rate? My car insurance company charges me more if I've had an accident. What about charging workers who repeatedly use the system a higher rate, rather than decreasing their benefit? This might help to have businesses that rely on the availability of seasonal workers internalize the costs of this rather than having the tax payers pay to fund the gap.
It's insurance isn't it? So why not charge those industries that repeatedly lay off workers a higher insurance rate? Or charge workers who repeatedly use the system a higher rate rather than decreasing their benefits. My car insurance company charges me more if I've had an accident. This might help those businesses that rely on the availability of seasonal workers to internalize their costs, rather than having the tax payers fund the gap.
I too have paid into EI for decades, but I've never claimed it. The operative word you used was to "need" it. Do you really need it when you actually plan your career with the intent to claim it? How much do you need it if you could have planned otherwise?
Why not put money aside if you know that you will be without income for anticipated durations of time? If the going rate is not enough for workers to do that, then the supply and demand of workers is off kilter. The expectation of getting EI has increased the supply too much. These are simple market dynamics.
Let's dispense with pretenses. The EI changes are not about helping people on EI to find jobs, because if this were the goal then you could have done without the threat to deny them their EI benefits. The EI changes are about one thing only: helping the top 1% to get even more rich by putting the downward pressure on the wages of the remaining 99%.
Steven Harper has been taking from the poor and giving to the rich since 2006.
St. John's, Newfoundland
The changes reflect the belief that Canadians who access EI simply don't want to work. Instead, EI use is a direct result of employer decisions. For example, I taught at a community college for six years. Each successive year I was laid off, and I received my assignment the week before classes started. I deeply desired full-time work, but it was in the college's interest to keep as many temporary, part-time instructors as possible.
Second, seasonal workers work hard. Tree planters, blueberry pickers, fishers, loggers - can anyone reasonably presume these Canadians don't want to work?
Third, foreign workers come to take jobs from Canadians because corporations refuse to pay a living wage. Foreign workers don't have mortgages or car loans; it is relatively inexpensive for them to live for their brief tenure in Canada. The favorable currency exchange rates mean that Canadian dollars are worth a lot in their country of origin. Bringing foreign workers to fill low-paying jobs undermines Canadian youth (often the seasonal workers), the housing industry and our tax base, all in the interests of keeping wages low and profits high.
I'm currently waiting for a renewal of my temporary teaching contract. It's deeply unsettling to be laid off and rehired on an annual basis. The new restrictions add insult to injury without addressing the problem of unemployment.
Campbell River, British Columbia
I think that we were definitely due for changes to the EI regime. Time will tell if these specific changes are the right ones, and there will no doubt be some tweaking and adjusting to be done as they are implemented.
What I definitely don't agree with is the decision to dismantle the current EI appeal process at exactly the same time as the regulation changes are implemented. The current appeal process works fine and you can be sure that there will be an increase in appeals as folks adjust to the new rules and appeal decisions may well help indicate where adjustments are needed. A cynic would suspect that it's a way to deny folks the right to appeal at a time when it is most needed.
Nanaimo, British Columbia
This is a complex topic and really deserves an in-depth examination and solution. It should not be included in an omnibus bill, in which the finer points in any one of the many issues being covered does not, in fact, get adequately covered. However, the requirement which I'm choosing to argue against is the one that requires that someone must take any offered employment within a 100-mile radius. This provision alone makes me feel that the legislation is ill-thought-out. Does this mean, for example, that a single parent must up sticks and move his or her entire family to a new place, with different schools, different (or completely unavailable) daycare, different healthcare providers (or none with openings in their practices) and no family and friends to help out and fill in the spots where school and daycare don't cover? That is a ridiculous concept.
Nowadays, increasing numbers of people are also caring for elderly parents, aunties or uncles - should the unemployed worker be forced to abandon that relative in his or her assisted-living facility, with nobody to fill in the blanks in that care? Should they have to sell their house? What if the other community is a much larger one, with much more expensive housing?
It is obvious that not enough careful consideration to the proposed Bill and its implementation has been given, particularly in a very large country with very diverse industries and conditions in different areas.
Maybe our well-paid MP's should be forced onto EI during their long seasonal absences from Parliament and thus be classified as frequent users. They should get a taste of what it means to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to qualify for meagre benefits and/or re-training. They need to live by the regulations they enact our our behalf.
Is it poor timing or what? The government just fired thousands of highly qualified scientists and other workers weeks before announcing these unnecessary proposals. The E-I fund is paid for by the employed to help those unfortunate enough to be between jobs or careers. The fund is not in danger of becoming underfunded. If there are fraudsters ripping the system, then go after them, but don't affect all those hard-working Canadians who, for the most part, want to hold on to their jobs. I am one of the fortunate ones who has only been forced to apply once for help in 1982, collecting one cheque which I had to pay back at the end of the year because I made too much money. I have paid into the fund since 1968, so by no means will I ever get my money back, but I am grateful that the fund was there all these years just in case.
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
I have a small business in Winnipeg, employing seven people none of whom have ever collected EI except for maternaty leave or illness. Since the entire EI department is funded by employers and their employees, I would like to propose that those who have not collected benefits should get some percentage of their past contributions refunded to them every ten years (or five years, or a number determined somehow). The employer should also receive a rebate every so often if their employees do not apply to receive EI. I think it is very wrong that the government puts any EI surplus into general revenue. The money is allocated to a certain purpose and should be used only for that.
I'd bet there isn't a single private insurer in the whole nation that would provide EI unless the premiums were at least 50% of income per annum.
Vernon, British Columbia
I am seriously getting tired of hearing people saying that they should have been consulted before these changes were announced. Guess what? we all were! In this parliamentary system, the election is a consultation, and if people stopped voting for a given party because they always have, and actually started participating in the process and voting with their head, perhaps we wouldn't get into these situations.
As for EI itself, I worked at Nortel for almost 28 years. I paid into EI for longer that that as I always had a job during my six years in university. I got the standard EI, nothing more. I bet you that if I had instead invested the money I paid into EI into a GIC, I would have gotten a lot more.
The best way to keep somebody unemployed is to give them money for not working. Although I do not generally agree with the policies of this particular government, I think it's high time they tighten the EI rules and get people working in this country.
Seasonal workers do not have to do menial jobs, they will have to get creative, and perhaps contribute a bit less to the underground economy and a bit more to the one the rest of working Canadians contribute to.
What makes the government think that any job is available to people who have developed a certain career or skill? My experience is that people hiring for a job want someone who is committed to that job, and who have experience and a resume for that job. They do not want to hire people who can't get the job they really want so they'll do this instead.
Everything now requires experience and a resume that shows a career path towards the job for which you are being interviewed. With so many young, relatively inexperienced people out of work why would a sandwich-making shop hire a civil engineer? Why would a gas station hire a fisherman to pump gas? Do you know that dishwasher jobs and office cleaning jobs in Toronto these days ask for two years professional experience?
And I don't know where those thousands of jobs are your recent guest mentioned, but they sure aren't in Toronto. I have been willing to take any job, including factory work, cleaning, restaurant work, sandwich making, anything that is considered any job and most of the time I do not get calls when I send out my resume because my experience has been in administration and they're getting dozens of people applying for these jobs who have already done them.
At the heart of this new legislation is union busting. Think about it - wages will be driven down and down to the delight of the elite. Figure out the eventual possibilities for yourselves.
Kelowna, British Columbia
The government is embedding in legislation what is already set out in jurisprudence. These not-so-new rules are focused on claimant availability which, through the EI appeal process, umpires (currently Federal Court justices) have made decisions over the previous decades since the 1940s. Restrictions on availibility are usually allowed for about eight weeks. Subsequently, it is considered reasonable to expand your job search into areas where your skill sets are transferable.
Unemployment benefits are a percentage of your former wage, substantially lower in some cases. At some point in time it is reasonable to accept a wage higher than your EI rate, however, lower than your previous wage.
In closing, I suspect that the responsible department no longer has the human resources to actually enforce the existing jurisprudence let alone the legislation once it is enacted.
Vancouver, British Columbia
It is my opinion that the erosion of EI benefits goes hand in hand with the general lowering of expectations of the average worker that seems to be the goal of the current administration (but also, of course, worldwide). These changes are not major at this point (yet) but they are a sign of the way we're going and the neo-conservative mindset that's sweeping many countries. Unions are being trashed, indirectly of course, they remain quite legal, but the threat of outsourcing with no restrictions, practically as to how and where companies may do this, spells their doom. Jobs in Canada are going unfilled and we must seek immigrants to fill them? Try looking at how companies are using this notion to lower salaries and then complain that Canadians don't want to work for them (at up to 1/2 the traditional salary of these positions). And of course with the government ready to ease immigration for people who may be quite willing to work at lower wages, the pressure on our standard of living is only going to get worse.
How about not allowing trade/outsourcing/immigration except to countries that are ready to accept a verifiable notion of minimum wages, environmental controls, personal freedoms and the rest of what we have worked hard to achieve? I don't say they have to be on par with us, but they should be doing their utmost to reach those levels.
If you had told us (class of '68) that our standard of living would be eroding as we went forward, we would have laughed it off as ridiculous. That we would need to work more instead of less? Again, inconceivable. Who would have believed what has happened in the last decades?
The 1% really do believe in a 'trickle down' economy. As long as the 99% get the trickle!
As a self-employed person, I have no access to employment insurance. To keep myself relatively sane I have maintained a balance in my bank account to tide me over should some unforseen calamaity prevent me from being able to perform and teach (I am a freelance classical musician/music teacher). I established and maintain this cash cushion by being realistic about my expectations, by shopping for bargains, by supporting charity shops for many items and by refusing to buy into all of the crap other people waste money on like weed-free lawns, gas mowers, cable or satellite T.V. and designer clothes, to name a few. I am still poor, but my life is rich and my decision to work or not to work will never be lorded over by some naive and stupid government bean counters.
I was raised in a Nova Scotia fishing family and my three brothers earn their living from the sea. Little by little the federal government has eaten away much of their ability to fish. They may not fish for herring, mackerel fishing or groundfish. They only have one fishery left, the lobster fishery, and for their area the season runs from the last Monday of November to the end of May. For the remainder of the year they subsist on EI. It isn't the little fisherman who has raped the ocean floors. Rather, the big draggers and the foreign fleets have taken everything. My brothers are getting close to 65 and are keeping their fingers crossed that they will be able to fish until then. It's highly unlikely that their sons and daughters will carry on the fishery. There will be no inshore fishery. The multinational corporations have won. They have bought up whatever quota and licenses. The little guy takes all the blame. Young people have to leave the community for education and work and only come back to visit. It makes me very sad that a whole way of life will become extinct.
An earlier caller said that she would like to opt out of EI coverage and stop paying into the fund. If that was possible, don't you think that all the employees that are not in seasonal employment would choose to opt out? Then where would the money come from?
Comox, British Columbia
How does this EI change blend in with the OAS changes? Sounds to me like if you are a physical worker, and the international business shuts down the factory and takes or destorys your pension plan, if you are 60+ who is locally going to hire you? And they expect you to leave town with aging family members for five to seven years of work? If there is retraining, how much work is the new employer going to get out of you? I think you will get dropped by EI and go on welfare for the last seven years, which includes the two additional year because you will have to wait for the government pension at age 67. The provinces will be taking the hit, unless they change their welfare system.
Nanaimo, British Columbia
While I sympathize with those who may be forced to travel to find employment, I have done so may times in my career. I wonder if you or your listeners are aware that those of us who are still working past the age of 65 are required to continue to pay the EI premiums although we are not elegible for the benefits? That is as it stands under the current system and I'm sure will continue with the new.
Langley, British Columbia
I wonder if anyone has addressed the issue of the women and men in the military who pay huge EI premiums for their entire career yet are not able to collect? Most members may get a pention when they retire, as my husband is collecting at the moment. However, he had to pay into EI for 41 years at a high premium. I agree with the previous caller who mentioned that people in a certain income bracket should not be able to collect EI. He did not, however, say that people receiving higher wages should not have to pay the premiums either.
It would be interesting to see how others view this idea.
Dartrmouth, Nova Scotia
The fruit grower from B.C. didn't want to hire migrant workers because he mostly hired students during the growing season. So why can't he continue hiring students during the summer? They go back to school in the fall. Surely they don't live on EI when they are going to school.
Our problem here in Sidney, the third oldest town in Canada, is business closures largely because they can't find staff. They can't find staff because there's nowhere for low-income people to live. Every time someone plans to add housing for low-income people they are shot down, often by neighbours who think they are too good for minimum-wage earners. Builders promise to include basement suites in new projects, but as soon as they get the permit they change the plans and build the usual $600,000 townhouses - way too pricey for people making $10 an hour. Affordable housing is at least an hour away unless the worker has a car. There used to be financial support from the province and the feds for supportive housing but it seems to have evaporated.
Sidney, Nova Scotia
EI is being used by the government for general revenue rather than investment in job creation, especially youth employment.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Please remind your listeners that you can't draw EI if you quit, only if you are laid off. As such, it is the choice of industry to create unemployed people who can draw EI. Perhaps it is not the individuals who are taking advantage of the system, but the employers?
I work in high tech (computers) and have been laid off three times in the past ten years. It is not seasonal work, but global downturns which force people onto EI. In Ottawa alone, 20,000 jobs were lost in 2002 and 2003. Not everyone wants to work in the oil industry. When Alberta has a viable high tech industry, I'll consider moving.
Why not take a page from the teachers in this regard? We are the oldest seasonal workers around. Originally, we did not work through the summers to allow students to help their families with agriculture or fishing. We are now paid a salary that is spread over 12 months to cover the summer months when we are not working. Why not make it an option that those who are working seasonally have their salary spread over 12 months, or take enough premium from that one person to cover that one person? I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure what a seasonal worker would make in terms of EI contributions would not pay the amount they claim. Something to think about.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
I hope that the people who are against "subsidizing" seasonal industries such as fisheries and agriculture are prepared to pay a great deal more for food once these seasonal workers are unable to collect EI during their off season. I hope that our economies can be vibrant without the seasonal tourism and logging industries as those workers are "encouraged" into non-seasonal work.
Galiano Island, British Columbia
I think that in large part the anger over these changes is misguided. Certainly it is easy to demonize the Harper government, and especially Mr. Harper himself, yet the notion that this is an attack on the working peoples is absurd. Working peoples are the electorate, and an unprovoked attack on the livelihoods of the voting public makes no sense. I think that despite the fantastically incompetent public relations of the current government, there is something to be said, considering the global financial situation, for cutting social programs. Those nations who felt as though "cuts need to be made, just not to us" are currently in quite dire economic straights, and I think in some regard it is admirable for the government to make these obviously unpopular cuts with what we can only assume is the long-term success of our nation in mind.
With regard to the effect on seasonal work, I think the argument is flawed. Certainly this damages the plausibility of working in a seasonal industry, but perhaps that is what is required. Certainly I would love to be a seasonal worker but, sadly, my finances require me to work a full year. Perhaps this move is intended to discourage seasonal work due to the economic stress it creates. A sad, yet possibly necessary move in todays economic climate.
St. John's, Newfoundland