Robyn Benson, PSAC

EI? EI? Oh.

Employment insurance is supposed to tide unemployed Canadians over until they can find work. But in most cases, it does not. Nearly two-thirds of the unemployed are now denied benefits, an all-time low. Check out the video, above, that we’ve just launched where we track the changes to EI regulations over the past few years.

Even for those who do qualify, things are worse than ever. They must now wait for weeks to get the benefits they need, because of government staffing cuts. And if you feel you’ve been improperly turned down, there’s another hurdle—more than a year can go by before your appeal is even heard. More than 1,000 part-time referees have been replaced with only 35 people in the new Social Security Tribunal and they are trying to handle a backlog of 10,000 appeals. An impossible task.

With Harper government cutbacks, unemployed workers have been getting the short end of several sticks for quite a while. A foolish attempt to blame union members for the claims backlog in 2011 has gone by the board. Government policies are the problem, and there is no sign they’re about to change.

Real people are being hurt on a daily basis. Wait times for benefits are soaring. For several years now, there have been too many heart-wrenching personal anecdotes to ignore. 82% of Canadians going on sick leave or parental leave now wait more than four weeks to obtain the support to which they are entitled.

Across the country last year, out of 330,000 EI claims waiting for processing, 200,000 of them were more than 29 days old. What is the government doing? Reducing staff.

120 EI offices have been closed, replaced by 19 centralized locations. The cost to our members? 600 jobs—and the government’s long-term plan is to slash more than ten times that: 6,600 employees by 2017. The cost to unemployed workers? How does one measure the amount of frustration and hardship this government has imposed?

Phone for help? 30% of calls simply go unanswered. In 2006, when the present government first came to power, the figure was 8%. Our diminishing number of front-line workers simply can’t handle the volume.

What are the unemployed, who have been paying EI premiums all along, supposed to live on? Instead of receiving the benefits to which they’re entitled, they’re being advised to apply for social assistance. Meanwhile, more than two billion dollars that could be spent on training will remain unspent, while the EI fund is rolling in billions of dollars of surpluses, being used to pay down the deficit instead.

The economic devastation of the government’s EI policies on some provinces is by now a matter of record, despite calm assurances from the Harper government. When the Atlantic premiers finally get around to releasing a long-awaited report they commissioned on the EI system, we can only expect more bad news on that front.

To sum up: our EI system is badly broken. It’s leaving countless unemployed people and their families to fend for themselves. It’s not providing the training it should be. It’s harming regional economies. And it’s putting our members between the proverbial rock and a hard place, as reduced staff and resources make it impossible to cope. For far too many Canadians, the 2015 election will not come soon enough. But we should all be preparing for it.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on June 30, 2014 8:05 AM.

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