"We are going to have to encourage more
persons with disabilities to work, more
seniors to work, more aboriginal people
to work, including young people. We need
to get rid of disincentives in the employment
insurance system to people joining the workforce."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
The Federal Conservatives are embarking on radical reforms to the rules for availing of Employment Insurance in this country that could have significant impacts on those that avail of the benefit in this province.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he is preparing for a time in the near future when worker shortages will be the challenge facing businesses, not unemployment.
The moves seem to be aimed at areas of high unemployment, where benefits are generous enough to be used as a guaranteed income every year. The aim, forcing Canadians to move to regions of the country where work is available.
The take whatever, whenever, wherever principle is not set in stone. Already the Conservatives are backpedaling. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley says unemployed workers who are receiving employment insurance benefits will not be forced to take jobs that don't match their skills or be forced to relocate for a job.
She told CTV's Powerplay that "We're saying that if there's a job locally, that's appropriate to your qualifications, then yes. And if it's within a reasonable pay range, then yes of course, we need you at work, we want you at work and we're going to remove the barriers that are artificially keeping you from doing that."
Employment Insurance changes that could restrict jobs the unemployed can turn down might add to the welfare rolls and force seasonal workers in this province to relocate. It could be a recipe for higher demands for social assistance, more working poor and increased underemployment.
I can not help but wonder what these changes will mean for fishermen and others in this province that are not active job hunters while collecting their annual EI benefits. What about provincial job creation programs that offer enough work to make people EI eligible?What about transitory workers who leave this province to work away and return for the Winter months? Will they be able to collect EI , if other jobs are available in the regions they traditionally work in?
Frankly, I am not sure that rule changes are not overdue. The E.I. Program was never designed to be a guaranteed annual salary supplement, which it has become in some regions of the country where chronic unemployment is an issue.
However, I can not help but think that businesses/government could make these jobs more attractive to workers by offering higher wages, access to training or better travel allowances. It appears that the Conservatives are employing a broad policy to coerce people into taking jobs they don't want.
Considering that workers pay for this insurance system themselves, and it is not in danger of collapse, one might be excused for wondering why the government is making unilateral changes. While the EI system was not designed as a GAI, it was designed to ensure workers who lose their jobs, through no fault of their own, do not fall into poverty. It gives the worker breathing room so they can find a job that fits their skill set, instead of taking the first crappy job that comes along.
A full detailing of what the government has in store for EI still remains unclear. However, you might get a better grasp on the ideological background from Andrew Jackson's latest article on the Canandian Centre for Policy Alternatives blog.
The proposed changes will be part of the budget-implementation Bill C-38. The changes could be enacted “within weeks,” as the budget has to be passed before the house rises for the summer.