Tougher rules for receiving federal employment insurance (EI) will do more harm than good, according to the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) — an umbrella organization of Canada's national and international unions, as well as provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils.
“Government ministers and MPs keep saying that the unemployed don’t want to work but Statistics Canada said just this week that there are 5.8 unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada,” says CLC president Ken Georgetti.
The government should be putting money into training and apprenticeship programs which would train unemployed and young workers for available jobs, he says.
“We saw no new money in the federal budget for training,” Georgetti says. “The government, it seems, would sooner pick on unemployed workers than help to retrain them.”
The changes, announced by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley on May 24, include revising the definition of “suitable employment” and a “reasonable” job search to deal with high unemployment. Reipients may also be required to commute up to an hour or more for a job and accept work if it pays between 70 and 90 per cent of their previous income.
“As Canada faces unprecedented skills shortages, it will be critical to better connect Canadians with available jobs in their local area,” says Finley. “Clarifying what is expected of claimants looking for work is just one element of our broader plan to encourage and support Canadians as they seek to return to work.”
The Conservative government will wait until the budget is passed by Parliament before more clearly defining what type of employment will be acceptable in order for EI recipients to continue receiving benefits. At that time, they will also clarify what is considered a "reasonable job search."
These clearer definitions will be helpful for smaller businesses trying to fill vacant positions within the company, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), who supports the proposed changes.
“We believe the changes to defining suitable employment, based on how frequently EI is claimed, will help to remove disincentives to work and hopefully make it easier for small firms to find the people they need,” says CFIB president Catherine Swift. “Employers agree that EI should be there for those who lose a job through no fault of their own, but do not accept that the system should be used as some form of paid vacation or ongoing lifestyle for those who choose not to work.”
The changes are linked to the government's plan to make it easier for employers to bring in migrant workers and pay them less than the prevailing wage, says Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which represents 120,000 workers in the forestry, energy, telecommunications, media and construction sectors.
The unemployed will be forced to take jobs paying as little as 70 per cent of what they were previously earning, according to Coles.
"The Conservative solution to unemployment is to force unemployed forestry workers to pick strawberries," he says, pointing to a report by the Forest Products Sector Council that says of 100,000 forestry workers laid off since 2004, nearly 40,000 remain unemployed, and face significant barriers to securing re-employment in the industry or elsewhere. "This is not the way to re-build what was once a key economic sector."
These changes will be the first significant amendments to the core EI rules since 2001. At that time, the then-Liberal government implemented several EI reforms, many of which reversed changes that had been made into law in 1996.
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