Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Dear Mr. Harper:
Elected members of the House of Commons have an opportunity to improve access to benefits for unemployed workers by passing Bill C-269 which proposes long overdue changes to the EI program.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents over half a million working Canadians – that is one in sixty working Canadians is a member of CUPE. On behalf of our members we are urging passage of this legislation.
Bill C-269 improves benefits by:
- Lowering the entrance requirement by 70 hours in all regions;
- Eliminating the 2-week waiting period;
- Raising the benefit level from 55% to 60% of weekly earnings;
- Basing benefits on the best 12 weeks of earnings;
- Extending the maximum duration to between 18 and 50 weeks depending on local unemployment rates.
While these reforms fall short of labour’s goals, they do represent a significant improvement, and we urge support for them.
The unemployment insurance system has been allowed to deteriorate over the years and is badly in need of reform to address today’s labour market realities.
- Today, only about 38% of unemployed workers receive benefits compared to 75% who qualified prior to the cutbacks of 1990.
- The length of benefit period is roughly half what it was 15 years ago. On average, claimants received only 19.3 weeks of regular benefits. Women are more likely to exhaust their benefits because they generally have fewer hours of endurable earnings.
- The existing level of benefits paid is inadequate to support families and children. Average weekly benefits were $315 compared to average weekly industrial earnings of $728 in 2003.
- Only 33% of claimants received the maximum of $413. Canada has the lowest basic replacement rate of OECD countries.
- The current patchwork of qualifying hours required for different benefits and different situations is inequitable and unreasonable, especially for new claimants and those re-entering the workforce after 12 months.
Affordability of EI reform should not be an issue. The accumulated EI program surplus is more than $50 billion. According to the CLC, testimony by senior government officials to the Committee in 2004 showed that the annual cost of the three key reforms, would be less than $2 billion, about the amount of annual interest on the surplus.
The surplus should be used to improve the program for those who contribute to it – workers and employers.
We can afford to increase benefits and make the program more accessible. Canada must not neglect our income support program, especially when we are experiencing such robust budgetary surpluses.
An overhaul of the EI program is long overdue. Strong leadership and political will are needed to make that change happen.
cc: Members, National Executive Board; Barb Byers