Temporary EI measures set to expire with no timeline for program reform

OTTAWA — Workers claiming unemployment insurance benefits must qualify under pre-pandemic rules starting Sunday, when the temporary measures expire.

The Liberal government has pledged to reform EI and fill loopholes in the program, but temporary measures introduced during the pandemic are being phased out before reform is implemented.

Labor supporters, as well as NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs, have called on the federal government to extend temporary measures that widened access to more workers.

During Question Time in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Bloc Québécois MP Louise Chabot asked Labor Secretary Carla Qualtrough to extend the measures until full reform of the program is implemented.

“The minister was given a mandate this summer to implement a full reform of the EI, but she didn’t do it,” Chabot said. “Will the minister at least extend the temporary measures?”

In response, Qualtrough said the temporary changes to EI are pandemic-related measures and are no longer necessary.

“I can assure (Chabot) and everyone that by the end of the year you will know what the vision is for EI,” Qualtrough said.

Under the temporary measures, workers qualify for EI based on a national requirement of 420 insurable hours, while workers would typically need between 420 and 700 hours depending on regional unemployment rates.

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Supporting the move to a national requirement, many experts say variable requirements are unfair to workers who are laid off in a region with a low unemployment rate.

In addition, as part of the temporary measures, the remuneration received upon separation from the workplace, e.g. B. a severance payment, not deducted from the benefits.

On Thursday, the National Council for the Unemployed held a joint press conference with Chabot, NDP Deputy Leader Alexandre Boulerice and other union leaders on Parliament Hill on the phasing out of the measures.

Qualtrough met with union leaders on Thursday and pledged to extend EI sick pay from 15 to 26 weeks by the end of the year, a change promised in the 2022 budget.

Milan Bernard, an organizational adviser with the National Council of the Unemployed, said Qualtrough has expressed its commitment to reforming the EI, but no timeline.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Bernard said.

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Experts and advocates say EI reform has been needed for years, but it was the COVID-19 pandemic that widened gaps in the program.

Faced with greater disruption to the economy early in the pandemic, EI was unable to offer any benefits to the staggering number of people suddenly unemployed when lockdowns hit.

In a report published in August 2020, Jennifer Robson, an associate professor of political management at Carleton University, found that EI does not cover enough Canadians while also failing on the administrative and technological fronts.

The shortcomings prompted the federal government to introduce the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to provide rapid assistance to Canadians.

In 2021, the Liberals campaigned to modernize EI, promising to expand the program to cover the self-employed and fill gaps, including those highlighted by COVID-19.

Qualtrough’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the minister to “present and begin implementation of a plan to modernize the EI system for the 21st century” by the summer of 2022.

Employment and Social Development Canada completed its latest round of public consultations on EI reform in July. However, there are no details on when legislation on EI reform will be introduced.

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The list of complaints about the current structure of the program is long, from eligibility requirements to funding to management technology.

A key concern of workers’ representatives and experts is that too few have access to the programme.

According to a Statistics Canada report released in 1998, the proportion of unemployed Canadians receiving EI benefits peaked in 1989 at 74 percent. This number fell sharply in subsequent years, in part due to reforms to the program in the 1990s.

While the temporary changes expanded access to EI, about 40 percent of unemployed Canadians received employment insurance prior to the pandemic.

Unifor President Lana Payne, who has campaigned for the temporary measures to be extended, said: “We cannot go back to a broken system.”

“(If) we go back to pre-COVID requirements, you’re going to have a lot of people who might fall through the cracks,” Payne said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022.

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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