Urgent EI fix needed now

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Reading the tea leaves of federal politics is always fascinating. How will Nannygate or the isotope scandal play out in the corridors of power? Who will trigger an election and when?

In the grown up world of real life though, for many working people fear is turning to anger.

Too many people are losing their jobs because of risky or incompetent management behaviour; all the while the CEOs keep collecting stratospheric paychecks.

On top of the terrible injury of job loss is the real insult of trying desperately, and often in vain, to collect the meagre benefits of the Employment Insurance system. Although we are in a global economic crisis, far too many Canadians are failing to qualify for EI now because of the where they live.

So why is our government taking the summer to study the matter when the solutions are so patently obvious?

Why is Stephen Harper turning his back on the most pressing need for too many Canadians right now?

Why did Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, who drew a line in the sand demanding EI qualifying hours be reduced to a uniform 360 right across Canada, abandon unemployed Canadians by settling for a study committee rather than securing real change?

The short answer is, like many who have the power to fix the problem today, they simply don't get it. They are not touched by the desperation a laid off manufacturing worker feels knowing she's been handed a one-way ticket out of the middle-class dream and is headed, probably for the first time in her life, into poverty. With eyes on their summer break and future political fortunes, our elected representatives do not feel the cold chill of a rapid evaporation of a lifetime of RRSP contributions or of making car payments by credit card.

From Nortel to auto parts to forestry to finance, Canadians are losing their jobs now.

Women who took maternity leave and have since lost their jobs are failing to qualify for EI now.

More and more of those who have received EI benefits are at the end of their payments and in financial need now.

In communities across Canada, people are failing to meet their financial obligations and are losing their homes now.

Children whose parents have lost their jobs are going hungry now.

The urgent need is to fix EI now.

So as politicians and CEOs all head off to their cottages and trips abroad, Canadians will keep stewing. What people who lose their jobs really want is another job. They will keep hunting in a desperate attempt to get back into a workplace.

But failing that, the best economic stabilizer for those who are bearing the brunt of the economic downturn, is a solid unemployment insurance system that ensures they can get income, pay their bills, ride out the storm, and get back to work as quickly as possible.

Employment Insurance should be there for unemployed workers when they need it most. The current EI system is broken.

What's needed to fix it is simple, clear and doesn't need more study:

- Change accessibility rules to provide EI benefits on the basis of 360 hours of work.

- Raise benefit levels to 60 per cent of earnings calculated on a worker's best 12 weeks.

- Increase the period for which benefits can be collected to a maximum of 50 weeks in all regions.

- If the national unemployment rate exceeds 6.5 per cent, extend the benefit period for up to another 50 weeks.

Those in charge don't get it. If they did, they would act immediately.

--

Costs of employment insurance reforms

2009-2010 (Assumes full year's costs, in millions)

Reducing qualifying minimum to 360 hours = $504

Basing benefits on best 12 weeks of earnings = $300

Raise benefits from 55% to 60% of insured earnings = $1,812

Removing the two-week waiting period = $765

Reform costs due to rising unemployment = $426

TOTAL: $3.807 billion

Current EI Fund Surplus = $56.95 billion

Recommended EI Reforms = 6.68% of the EI surplus

Sources: Alternative Federal Budget 2009 (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives), Public Accounts of Canada. Supplied by the Good Jobs for All Coalition.

This article was first published by The Toronto Sun on July 10, 2009 and is reprinted on rabble.ca with permission.

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