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The Progressive Economics Forum

EI: It’s all in the details

What not to say in an interview if you’re on EI, and other nightmares

The latest detail to emerge about the recent changes to EI is from the Digest of Benefit Entitlement Principles.  The Digest is a guide to enforcing Employment Insurance, with definitions of key terms, and elaborates on expectations of EI claimants and penalties for errors.

In Chapter 9, Refusal of Employment, Service Canada outlines several actions that are equivalent to refusing employment.

Section 9.2.3 states that “a refusal of employment occurs where the claimant advises the employer that they are available for only a limited period of time, whether by reason of a contemplated move to another area, pregnancy, a pending return to former employment or preferred occupation, or by reason of waiting for better employment to become available.” Seasonal workers should take care, as simply answering questions honestly is no defence.

Taking a look at Chapter 6 (specifically Section 6.5.7.2), Service Canada covers the consequences of leaving permanent employment for seasonal employment. This would affect frequent claimants who were forced to take employment at 70% of their previous wage. Let’s say for example that low-wage employment was permanent, and they leave it to return to their previous job.  If for some reason they find themselves laid off again, they may be disqualified from EI benefits.  How d’you like them apples?

Despite Minister Finley’s repeated claims that EI changes won’t affect seasonal or cyclical businesses, details such as this virtually guarantee that they will.

Employment Insurance is a program with many tricky details, separating claimants into different regions, different pilot projects, and different requirements for defining suitable employment.  It can make it difficult to develop a clear and understandable objection to any alterations in EI.  Any one detail that becomes a focus of opposition can be changed, leaving other equally terrible changes still in force.

But this time it’s different. There are a multitude of small changes, so that any working Canadian would be hard pressed to show that these changes didn’t make them worse off. Taken as a whole, the changes reflect a serious macro-economic misunderstanding of the role that employment insurance plays in stabilizing our labour market.

The undemocratic manner that the changes were introduced – in a mammoth omni-budget bill, with no stakeholder consultations, is outrageous in and of itself. Employers and employees pay for EI, and changing it without consultation is simply wrong. What’s worse, the lack of thought and consultation  is reflected in the many undesirable consequences of the bill.

The only option is to scrap the changes, and undertake a more thoughtful & democratic reform.

UPDATE: The consequence for refusing employment is a 7 to 12 week disqualification, depending on the circumstances.

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Comments

Comment from serge boucher
Time: February 20, 2013, 8:50 am

Harper was elected and not by majority.He is selling canada as fast as he can to foreign byer’s with trade deals that are also secretive.It seems more like a dictatorship.Canada will not be the same if canadians dont stand up by the millions to fight this rape that is being forced on our country.EI reform should be scapped now!Vote NDP!

Comment from Todd
Time: February 24, 2013, 10:51 am

Angel wrote:

“Taken as a whole, the changes reflect a serious macro-economic misunderstanding of the role that employment insurance plays in stabilizing our labour market.”

I’d say rather that it reflects a real understanding of the role that EI plays in (barely) “leveling” the playing field of (bargaining) power between job-seekers and employers. Employers want job-seekers desperate enough to take any job at any rate of pay rather than having to “compete” with EI, and that’s what successive Canadian governments (most recently and, I think, most dramaticallty, the Harper one) have been doing.

Comment from Angella MacEwen
Time: February 25, 2013, 2:21 pm

Todd, that’s certainly the more cynical way of viewing these changes to Employment Insurance – whether intentional or misguided, the consequence is the same – downward wage pressure and less bargaining power for workers.

Comment from Purple Library Guy
Time: February 26, 2013, 2:15 am

There are times when cynicism becomes realism. So many policy initiatives by the Conservatives push in the same direction; for instance, the foreign guest workers program, apparently tailor made to ratchet down wages and worker rights. The hypothesis that all the different initiatives with the same kind of impact are just co-incidence becomes rather strained.
And this is after all an explicit policy goal for certain strands of economic thinking. They call it “workforce flexibility”.

Comment from Todd
Time: February 26, 2013, 8:33 pm

Angella, do you seriously believe that the Conservatives and the Liberals are really that ignorant about the consequences of what they’ve done and who benefits from the changes they’ve made?

Comment from Angella MacEwen
Time: February 27, 2013, 8:23 am

Todd, I didn’t say your view was incorrect! I think you and PLG probably have it right here.

Comment from Todd
Time: February 27, 2013, 10:17 am

I’m sorry. I think I must have been confused by your use of the word “cynical”.

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