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Employment Insurance changes bring hardship to Canadians

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It has been a week and a half since changes to the definition of suitable employment and reasonable job search have come into effect. Already, a single mom in Prince Edward Island, Marlene Giersdorf, has become a symbol of the hardship these changes are likely to have on many Canadians in the coming months.

When she refused to expand her job search radius to Charlottetown, a 45-minute drive away, because she didn't have a car, she was cut off EI benefits. Giersdorf says she was told that if she wasn't willing to look for work in Charlottetown, then she could always apply for social assistance. Her protest has touched many, with some starting a fundraising website to buy her a car.

On Jan. 15, the Quebec government called on the federal government to reverse these changes to EI and do an assessment of their impact before reinstating any changes. They are concerned about the downward pressure on wages, and increases in social assistance rates as unemployed workers are cut off benefits and have no available employment.

This response from the Quebec government follows a huge protest in Îles-de-la-Madeleine on January 13, where over 4,000 people came out to protest the changes to Employment Insurance.

MPs from PEI are hearing broad concerns, and are tracking them so that they can be shared with Minister Finley.

This fear and confusion stems, in part, from a total lack of consultation with employers and employees regarding amendments to EI. As evidenced by the backlash to the changes to the Working While on Claim pilot project changes, lack of consultation leads to unintended and sometimes negative outcomes for the very people that EI is meant to assist.

The confusion around these issues is likely to increase errors in EI claim decisions, and increase the number of appeals. The current standard for EI appeals is that they be heard within 30 days, but in 2011-12 only 29 per cent of appeals were heard within that time frame. This is a decline from 2002-03, when 42 per cent of appeals were heard within 30 days. Changes to the appeals process that come into effect in April 2013 only increases apprehension for unemployed workers and those who work with them.

Photo: Tania Liu/Flickr

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