Wednesday, May 16, 2012


"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 government intends to change the rules surrounding what is considered "suitable employment" and "reasonable" efforts at finding work. The changes will transition the program from what many consider a guaranteed income for a period of time to a short term buffer. The Minister says workers should be prepared to travel anywhere in Canada and do what ever is available. He says there are no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job!

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.

1 comment:

Cyril Rogers said...

Peter, I work in the oil sands area and they bring in thousands of foreign workers to do what are essentially menial jobs. I know many people from communities in our province that would jump at the chance to work here. So, why are these Canadian citizens not offered these jobs. I am not against foreign workers but feel that Canadians should have first priority.

As for moving to Alberta, I see that as unnecessary, disruptive, and detrimental to small rural communities. We have already lost many of our workers to Alberta but why is it necessary to uproot their families if the worker can be flown home periodically. Is it ideal? NO! But, why the disconnect between the unemployed and the jobs.

Labour mobility does not mean you HAVE to move your family, especially if you work at remote sites. Would they not be better off staying in their home communities, surrounded by supportive relatives?
This is not to say that people should not move to take employment, as hundreds of thousands of our people have done. However, a better employment system would make provision for workers to travel to sites and allow for them to go home regularly.

Furthermore, shifting all of the economic activity to one region creates boom and bust scenarios, painful readjustment for familiies, and, envy by less well-off areas of the country. Eastern Canadians are here keeping the economy of Alberta vibrant but it should be a two-way street. Right now, the system is set up to encourage a dog-eat-dog mentality.