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Changes to EI: It's all in the details

| February 20, 2013
Photo: Thandiwe Mccarthy/Flickr

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 per cent 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 and democratic reform.

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

Photo: Thandiwe Mccarthy/Flickr

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