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Thousands of people filled the streets of Montréal, Québec City, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Sept-Îles and Baie-Comeau this past Saturday to demonstrate against the Harper government’s recent employment insurance reforms. Similar demonstrations were organized the same day elsewhere across the country, including New Brunswick and Ottawa.

Besides cutting into the incomes of the least advantaged members of Quebec society, these reforms will block access to employment insurance for thousands of workers,” stated CUPE-Quebec President Lucie Levasseur. “Within CUPE, it’s mainly our seasonal workers who will be affected, especially at the regional level in education, in municipalities and at universities. We need to do whatever it takes to get the Harper government to back down and put a stop to this disaster in the making.”

Discriminatory reforms

True or false: The Harper government’s employment insurance reforms mainly affect only fishers.

False! At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find permanent, full-time jobs, the new rules of the employment insurance program are going to make it hard for a lot of people.

As FTQ president Michel Arsenault explains, “Forcing seasonal or temporarily unemployed workers to accept jobs at 70 per cent of their wage and up to 100 kilometres away makes no sense. This only creates widespread insecurity, takes jobs away from students and encourages a lot of people to lie in order, for example, to get temporary work between two seasonal jobs.

And the government’s latest move to send its representatives out unannounced to the homes of employment insurance recipients just adds humiliation to the existing insecurity and provocation. You’d think we were living in some dictatorship; all that’s missing is police raids in the middle of the night to round up the unemployed. It’s absolutely shameful, and we have to make the Harper government back down.”

Arsenault noted that this is not the first attack by the federal government: “After blatantly hijacking the Employment Insurance fund, they’ve moved on to closing selected employment centres, cutting staff and increasing application processing time, not to mention limiting appeal mechanisms and doing away with the board of referees and umpire. As people are saying, enough is enough, and this is enough!”

For the FTQ and its affiliated unions, the reforms smack of revenge to a certain extent. “Any more of this and people could start seeing it as a direct attack on the people in provinces and regions who didn’t vote for Stephen Harper,” Arsenault concluded. “For him, there’s no electoral risk. We need to prove him wrong on this.”