The government’s October 12 announcement that they will extend two EI pilot projects for eight more months (“Best 14 Weeks” and “40 per cent Allowable Earnings”) is welcome news for the many workers who find themselves in precarious employment. The government should move quickly to make them permanent features of the EI Act.

But at the same time, too many workers are being left out in the cold.

People who live in Canada’s most populous urban centres are being shut out from the five-week EI extension also announced by the federal government on October 12. For those who are laid off, the cancellation of the five week extension could add up to a loss of $2,285.

This is no small matter. The vast majority of Canadians live in large urban centres.

This shutout is happening because the federal government chose to:

• End the five-week extension that applied to claimants in all regions, as well as a provision that gave “long tenure” workers up to 20 extra weeks;

• Revert to an old formulation of the five-week extension which applies to only 21 of 58 EI regions, the ones that met a 10 per cent unemployment test back in 2005, mostly rural.

This makes no sense. A lot has happened since 2005. National unemployment rates were under 6 per cent before the 2008 economic crisis and recession. Even bank economists now acknowledge it will likely be years before we see national unemployment rates of 6 per cent again.

CAW has argued that extended EI benefits should apply to all regions and remain at least as long as the national unemployment rate is above 6 per cent.

There was a time when 4 per cent unemployment was considered high. During the 1980s the law required the federal government to help fund U.I. benefits when national unemployment exceeded 4 per cent since a high national unemployment rate could not be explained by regional factors alone.

The first group of unemployed who now qualify for only 14 or 15 weeks will start running out of EI benefits right after Christmas in places like Halifax, Quebec City, Kingston, Regina and Winnipeg.

Cities excluded from the five week EI extension:

Halifax (Nova Scotia)

Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John (New Brunswick)

Quebec City, Montreal (Quebec)

Windsor, Oshawa, Toronto, London, Hamilton, Kitchener, Niagara, St. Catharines, Thunder Bay (Ontario)

Winnipeg (Manitoba)

Regina, Saskatoon (Saskatchewan)

Edmonton, Calgary (Alberta)

Vancouver, Victoria (B.C.)

The big manufacturing towns are still reeling from all the job losses that began in 2007. They will be excluded from the EI extension. That includes hard-hit Windsor with unemployment in excess of 12 per cent for most of 2010 as well as Oshawa still struggling with unemployment over 10 per cent.

Metropolises like Toronto and Montreal, with a large service sector, have had unemployment in excess of 9 per cent for most of 2010.

EI Regional unemployment rates are erratic and based on a “rolling” three-month average. Southern interior British Columbia was above 10 per cent, fell below that during the summer, but by October was back up over 10 per cent. St. Catharines fell to 8.2 per cent unemployment in July but climbed again to 9.7 per cent in October.

The regional unemployment rate that determines EI entitlements at the start of your claim tells us nothing about unemployment levels in the months that follow, while you’re looking for work. It can rise dramatically.

Since official unemployment rates exclude those who’ve given up looking for work because of a depressed job market, it’s not unusual for unemployment rates to actually fall while layoffs and closures abound.

Regions included in the five-week extension which runs until September 15, 2012 (only 21of 58 regions):

1. Newfoundland/Labrador

2. St. John’s

3. Prince Edward Island

4. Eastern Nova Scotia (excluding Halifax)

5. Western Nova Scotia

6. Madawaska-Charlotte

7. Restigouche-Albert

8. Gaspésie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine

9. Trois-Rivieres

10. Central Quebec

11. North-western Quebec

12. Lower Saint Lawrence and North Shore

13. Chicoutimi-Jonquières

14. Northern Ontario

15. Sudbury

16. Northern Manitoba

17. Northern Saskatchewan

18. Northern B.C.

19. Yukon

20 Northwest Territories

21. Nunavut

Laurell Ritchie is an EI specialist at the Canadian Auto Workers union.