March 8th is usually a day to celebrate the success of women in the economic, political and social realms. Yes, women have come a long way in society but this year there is a black cloud hanging over their head.
This year, there are dark clouds looming and thousands of women in the work force are very concerned about the drastic changes made by the Harper Government to the Employment Insurance (EI) program and about their impacts on them. Women fear they will have more difficulty accessing EI benefits when they desperately need this financial support when they are in-between jobs.
The first dark cloud is the new division of unemployed workers in three separate categories. Each category will be force to apply for jobs which will only pay 90%, 80 % or 70% of their former salary. In NB, thousands of women fall into the “frequent” category of claimants because of the seasonality of their jobs: tourism, fishing industry, education. With the new changes, these women will have less time to find a suitable job and will also now be forced to accept jobs that will pay up to 30% less than in their former employment. This will have an impact on their present employment revenue and certainly on their future EI claims. They will be seriously disadvantaged financially.
The second dark cloud is that it will become increasingly difficult to refuse a job. Yes, Service Canada claims that a job may be turned down if it is not deemed suitable for reasons of family responsibilities, hours of work and travel time. However, it is quite clear in the federal government EI policies, as elaborated in the Digest of Benefits Entitlement Principles, that women will have a hard time refusing jobs on these criteria. As detailed in Annex A, family obligations and hours of work will rarely be accepted as legitimate reasons for declining a job offer. Claimants will be expected to make arrangements for the care of family members so as to allow them to accept the hours of work that are available in the labour market. Women applying for a job and telling the employer that they are only available for a limited period of time because they are pregnant will be considered as refusing a job. Travel will not easily be accepted as a legitimate excuse to refuse a job. This applies to people living in remote, rural, urban or suburban areas.
The third dark cloud is the modification of the 14 best weeks Pilot Project which was in place all of NB except the more urban EI region of Moncton-Saint John-Fredericton. This pilot project was beneficial to women. The 2011 Report on the Monitoring and Evaluation of EI says that- the average weekly benefit of affected claimants in 2010/11 would have been $290, instead of $337.The modification of the 14 best weeks Pilot Project to 14 - 22 best weeks means that women in the Restigouche-Albert and Edmundston-Charlotte EI regions won’t have this advantage anymore, the end result being a decrease in their revenue. They will be disadvantaged financially.
The fourth black cloud is the disappearance of the Pilot Project of the five extra weeks of EI for regions of high unemployment. Women who were in the seasonal industries of tourism, fisheries and others were able, in this way, to extend their benefit period and not fall in the Spring Black Hole. The EI Monitoring and Assessment Report, 2011 reported that 57.6% of frequent claimants benefited from this pilot project.The 2010 report said the same thing. The cancellation of this pilot project will certainly be financially disadvantageous for women.
These above reasons are just some of the foreseeable negative impacts that the EI changes will have on women in NB and everywhere else in Canada. It is too early to predict with certainty what will be the overall impact of these sweeping changes on women but we can say with certainty that it will only aggravate the financial situation of women if they lose their employment and need to access EI benefits.
We hope that the 2013 International Women’s Day will be an occasion for all NB women to form a solidarity chain and unite as sisters to fight against the Harper Government ‘s attack on such an essential program that is preventing women to fall into poverty in-between jobs.