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TORONTO – Coalitions advocating for fair employment insurance policies today issued a national joint statement opposing dangerous changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance system made by the Harper government. The launch marks the escalating resistance that began with rallies in the Atlantic provinces and a demonstration of thousands on the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal.
Among other changes, new EI job search rules require that claimants classified as ‘occasional’ or ‘frequent’, after just six weeks of searching for a job, accept work with up to a 20 to 30 per cent pay cut and take positions outside their usual occupation.
“The impacts of these changes are startling, as three quarters of all claimants – totaling over a million workers – fall into these new ‘occasional’ or ‘frequent’ categories,” said Marie-Helene Arruda from the Quebec Coalition Against the EI Changes. “While we watch the senate spending scandal unfold in Ottawa, it is insulting for this government to push through cuts affecting the most vulnerable workers in the country.”
Workers in part time, casual and temporary jobs with erratic schedules and educational support workers, hotel workers, factory workers and others who are laid off by their employers during slow periods will all be affected.
Forcing people to take these kinds of jobs or risk getting cut off of EI is not only bad labour market policy, but poor economic policy as well. It is likely to throw more families in to poverty and wastes workers’ skills and training, said Jean-Claude Basque from the New Brunswick Coalition Against the EI Changes.
“More and more people are realizing what these changes will mean to this critical social safety net. Instead of modernizing our EI program to adapt to the job market of the 21st century, the Harper government is trying to dismantle it and feed a downward spiral of cheap labour,” said Basque.
Canadian workers and employers currently fund the Employment Insurance program in its entirety. At its core, EI recognizes unemployment as a societal and economic problem – not an individual one. Rather than gut the system, Coalition groups are calling for improvements that would adapt the program to Canada’s changing workforce and economy.
“Less than half of unemployed Canadians are currently collecting EI,” said Laurell Ritchie from the Good Jobs For All Coalition. “EI is vital to this country’s economic and social health, and it requires a major overhaul in order to adapt to today’s job market. At the very least, we need to: increase access by reducing the qualifying hours in all regions; increase benefits and the duration of coverage; and provide fair EI entitlements to temporary foreign workers.”
The statement has been endorsed by 80 community, student and labour groups to date.
Press conferences were held this morning in Charlottetown, Moncton, Montreal and Toronto. Regional representatives are available across the country to speak to media.