Steelworkers on Extended EI

UPDATE (October 20): The transcript of the hearing described below is now available.

. . .

Late this afternoon, I had the pleasure of serving on a Parliamentary panel composed entirely of members of the United Steelworkers union. 

My co-panellists before the Human Resources committee were Ken Georgetti, CLC President, and Rosalie Washington, a laid-off worker who would qualify for the proposed extension. (Yvon Godin, a member of the committee, was a Steelworker representative before being elected to Parliament.)

Our basic message was that, despite its flaws, Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits, is worth passing.

The Macleans blog summarizes this hearing. My testimony made the same points as my recent post on this topic and the letter below.

An important critique of Bill C-50 is that it only applies to EI claims established since January 4, arbitrarily excluding claims established in 2008 that have not yet been exhausted or expired. (An EI claim ordinarily expires after 52 weeks, if it is not exhausted or voluntarily ended sooner.)

To shed some light on this problem, I circulated the following table. These Statistics Canada figures are not specific to long-tenured workers, but indicate the overall proportion of claims accepted before and after January 4.

Nationally, for every three claims accepted during the period eligible for extended benefits, one was accepted during the excluded period. But this ratio is as low as three-to-two in the island provinces and as high as four-to-one in Alberta.

Initial Claims Received and Allowed by Province
(from Statistics Canada Table 276 – 0004)

 

Oct. – Dec. 2008 

Jan. – July 2009  

Canada*

589,330   

1,625,710  

 NL    

 34,860   

 52,900 

 PEI     

 9,040    

 13,050    

 NS    

 26,540   

 60,240    

 NB     

 29,210    

 57,810     

 QC    

168,790   

408,920    

 ON   

181,090  

583,540   

 MB    

 16,770    

 45,160     

 SK     

 11,910   

 35,540   

 AB  

 36,280   

161,380    

 BC    

 72,460   

202,860     

* Also includes claims filed in the territories and abroad.

Hon. Diane Finley

Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

140 Promenade du Portage

Gatineau, Quebec

K1A 0J9

Dear Minister Finley,

I write regarding Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits. Thank you for extending additional weeks of Employment Insurance (EI) benefits to thousands of unemployed Canadians, including many members of my union, who otherwise would have run out of benefits.

While this proposal is a meaningful improvement, I am concerned about two specific elements. Beyond Bill C-50, several other EI reforms are urgently needed.

The proposed benefit extension for long-tenured workers would be available only for EI claims established since January 4, 2009. Given that EI claims ordinarily expire after 52 weeks, many claims begun in the later months of 2008 have not yet expired. What is the rationale for excluding such claims from the benefit extension?

A second problem with Bill C-50 is the exclusion of workers who have used 36 or more weeks of EI benefits in the five years preceding their current claim. This rule is reminiscent of the previous Liberal government’s effort to impose “experience rating” on the EI program, which the labour movement successfully overturned.

Forestry and other hard-hit sectors suffered frequent layoffs even before the current economic crisis. Over the past five years, employers have eliminated half a million manufacturing jobs in Canada.

Individuals who are fired with cause or quit their jobs voluntarily are already denied EI benefits. However, previous involuntary layoffs have caused some long-tenured workers to use 36 or more benefit weeks. If such workers have had the misfortune of being laid off again, why are they less deserving of extended benefits?

Bill C-50 will provide welcome assistance to a significant number of unemployed Canadians. Unfortunately, it arbitrarily excludes some long-tenured workers.

Broader, permanent EI reform is required to increase the accessibility, level and duration of benefits for all unemployed workers. In particular, we need a lower entrance requirement and no clawback of severance pay from benefits.

Workers who do qualify should not have to wait for two weeks without benefits. International Labour Organisation standards stipulate that, if there is a waiting period, it shall not exceed one week (convention C168, Article 18).

Thank you for your attention to these matters. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss them further.

Yours truly,

Ken Neumann

National Director for Canada

United Steelworkers

One comment

  • As a private citizen of Alberta I can greatly agree with what Ken Neumann has stated. My roommate has found it increasaingly difficult to find gainful employment after being laid off in February of 2009. Unfortunately, I believe he was denied the extension due to the fact that he had just completed a journeyman Red Seal Certification the previous November and was also taking classes to attain a Journeyman standing in Heavy Duty Mechanics. So his 36 weeks in a 5 year standing were up (to put it bluntly).

    Resume’s have gone out, we’ve both been diligently looking for something to which he is qualified. Have “sucked it up” so to speak and gone to apply for lesser paying jobs that unfortunately bring down one’s self esteem and moral.

    It’s a trying time, Here in Alberta for tradespersons it seems to be doubly so Even tripply. The EI Reform has to be looked at in this time of recession. There’s only so much a person can do when there’s no takers or no call backs on job prospects. Everyone’s looking– but nobody’s hiring at least that’s the way it seems from my standpoint.

    Something’s got to give!

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