The presidents of Canadian Union of Public Employees New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador today responded to the study of Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) system with the following statement:
The Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) study is correct in saying that EI needs fixing, but ignores the realities of regional economics and fails to offer solutions that meet the needs of all Canadians.
The study, released yesterday, concludes that EI “is failing to meet the needs of working Canadians, and policy-makers are not addressing the problem”.
That’s certainly true. Due to decades of mismanagement under successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments, EI is not meeting the needs of many workers, particularly those who work in seasonal industries such as fishing. Those governments have also continually dipped into the EI fund, removing resources that should have been available to the workers who paid for them.
However, removing regional eligibility rules from EI will hurt seasonal workers more and unfairly impact communities on the East Coast. For instance, returning to one zone in PEI is extremely important for urban workers that are currently disadvantaged because of a recent political decision to divide the Island into a two-zone system.
CUPE has offered the Conservative government better solutions to fix EI, but Stephen Harper has shown he doesn’t care about unemployed workers.
CUPE’s solutions include:
- Proper consultations with workers and communities about how best to manage unemployment support, and to hear workers’ experiences with unemployment and precarious work and the way they think we need to build a social welfare system that allows people to not bear all the risk of the current economic system.
- Reduce the number of qualifying hours (for regular benefits) to 360 hours, no matter who workers are or where they live and work in Canada.
- Measure a “week” as 30 hours instead of 35 when calculating benefit levels and duration, to reflect the average Canadian work week.
- Increase the benefits period to 50 weeks.
Increase benefits to at least 60 per cent of earnings being replaced calculated on a worker’s best 12 weeks.
As the economy under the Harper government slows into a possible recession, Canadians need the critical “safety net” systems they’ve been paying for. It is time we elect a federal government that is willing to fix EI and protect Canada’s most vulnerable workers.