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Harper government chipping away at access to EI

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Photo: Albert Lynn/Flickr

There were two announcements this week around employment insurance -- both framed as "being more responsive to local labour market conditions." What that really means is that in the three territories and Prince Edward Island, access to EI will become more difficult in urban areas.

Employment Insurance is divided into 58 separate economic regions, and access to benefits, as well as benefit duration, depends on the unemployment rate in your economic region. This implies that one's need for EI varies based on the local unemployment rate.

The announcements this week have added four new economic regions to EI, splitting the three territories and PEI into two regions each -- one mainly urban and one mainly rural.

The differences are quite stark -- in areas with unemployment over 13 per cent one only requires 420 hours or 12 weeks of full-time work (assuming 35 hrs per week) to access a minimum of 26 weeks of benefits. Where the unemployment rate is 6 per cent or lower, one requires 20 weeks of full-time work to access a minimum of 14 weeks of benefits.

Being shut out from EI means that you are shut out from training benefits administered through Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs). This is even more relevant since the federal government has drastically cut funding to training for those not eligible for EI when they gutted Labour Market Agreements to fund their Canada Job Grant.

In Charlottetown and surrounding area, workers will now need between 630 - 665 hours to qualify for a minimum of 17 weeks of benefits. The rest of PEI sees a measly increase in their minimum number of weeks from 23 to 26 -- and no increase in their maximum duration of benefits.

In the Northern territories, it means that when there are layoffs at the mine, some folks will qualify for more EI benefits based on where their address is.

This change shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the labour markets in the North, and in PEI. It punishes urban workers and hardly benefits rural ones. This is a petty change, and exactly what we have come to expect from this government when EI is concerned.

Photo: Albert Lynn/Flickr

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