EI table

One of the difficult things in negotiations or politics is having a measuring stick.  When have you got enough to make the compromise worth it?

So it is with the current negotiations around EI.  For the great majority of the unemployed, there is nothing in the Conservative Bill C50.  For somewhere up to 190,000 people, however, there is something.  These will be mostly older workers who have worked and paid into EI for most of their lives  and are now victims of closures between January 2009 until June 2010.

I happen to know personally quite a few hundred of these people because they have been members of bargaining groups I have worked with.  They have been laid off in the past 10 months, and a bunch more are about to be out of work by the end of October.  In most cases they have not received severance pay, which in any even would delay their EI.  Almost all of them have been paying into EI for more than 12 years.  Bill C50 will mean that their EI claim will be extended an additional 20 weeks.

Politics rarely provides something tangible for a worker who is being kicked in the face by our economic system.  My measuring stick in this case is a tangible benefit for some people who deserve it.  No, C50 does not make our EI system fair or adequate.  But 20 weeks of EI for thousands of older workers measures up to the compromise of voting for a Conservative motion.  

Not sure what is in C50 and what it means for the unemployed?  Here is the analysis prepared by the Canadian Labour Congress.

CLC analysis of EI Bill C-50

Bill C-50 addresses the needs of claimants whose benefits began after January 4, 2009, and who have claimed less than 35 weeks over the last five years. They will get from five to 20 extra weeks of benefits depending on how long they have been paying into the EI system.

The government estimates that 190,000 workers will qualify over the life of the program at a cost of just under $1 billion. The payments will be made over the final months of 2009, 2010, and until the Fall of 2011. If the Bill is not passed by mid-October, workers otherwise at the front end of this temporary program will not qualify. The start date would be pushed forward by any delay.

The maximum additional weeks for those who have been paying at least 30% of their maximum annual premium in seven of the last 10 years (i.e. earning more than about $13,000) is five weeks. To get more, a worker has to have been paying in for a longer period of time. To get the full 20 weeks, a worker has to have paid in for 12 to 15 years.

The measures are temporary and will apply to new claims filed since January of this year (if the Bill is passed by October 15), and will not apply to new claims filed after September 11, 2010. However, there are additional clauses that significantly cut the benefits for new claims filed after June 6, 2010, again graduated according to how long they have been paying into the plan.

The target group is very explicitly older workers who have made very limited use of the EI system — meaning younger workers, many women, workers in high unemployment regions, workers in seasonal industries, and many industrial workers will not qualify. That is why only 190,000 will qualify over three years compared to 1.6 million unemployed workers today.

Receipt of special benefits is not counted as part of the 35-week cutoff, but many women will not qualify because they have taken time out from work over past years.

The 35-week cutoff will exclude many industrial workers who have been temporarily laid off to reduce inventories, to allow for retooling of plants, and other normal workforce fluctuations in operations. It will also exclude many of the earlier victims of the manufacturing and forestry jobs crisis.

The 35-week provision will most likely exclude many current and future EI claimants in provinces which experienced relatively high unemployment over the past five years ― notably Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and rural and northern regions in other provinces.

The cutoff will also exclude many workers who have made use of the EI system in the past because they have been unemployed through no fault of their own. Fair accessibility to the system is not addressed in this Bill. Bill C-50 is focused on older workers, and is a small step to address the effects of the recession on long-term workers who face an uncertain future. They are not the only measures the government could have proposed given the recommendations of its own Task Force on Older Workers and long-standing CLC proposals.

While the measures will help some older workers, they are temporary, and will end in 2011.


Canadian Labour Congress


Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson is the assistant to the President of Unifor.