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A New Set of Changes is on the Way!

8 January 2013

No, thankfully we’re not talking about any more mortgage rule changes. But the federal government has once again taken steps to reign in their spending and help with our national deficit. This time, EI was the program on the chopping block, and some very big changes were made to it that will affect thousands of workers in Canada.

First, you need to know how EI used to work. If you lost your job due to being laid off, you could fill out some forms and show some documentation and, within six to eight weeks, begin collecting Employment Insurance from the government. The amount of insurance you would receive was based on your last previous income, and you could typically collect it anywhere from 14 to 45 weeks.

There were some stipulations all applicants had to meet before being handed a cheque though. Reports are due every two weeks in which applicants must state whether or not they worked, and essentially prove that they are still eligible for EI. Along the way applicants were also supposed to show that they were making an active effort to look for work, submit resumes, and show the different places of business in which they had interviews,or dropped off an application.  That work, or effort to look for work, wasn’t limited by the government as to where it was or what type of work it was. And that’s just what’s about to change.

First, EI applicants will now be placed into one of three categories, whereas before all applicants were treated equal. The categories range from “long-tenured workers,” “frequent claimants,” and “all other claimants.” Those who have been working regularly over the past 7 out of 10 years, and have used very little or no EI benefits will be considered as “long-tenured workers;” while those who use EI fairly often (60 weeks out of the past 5 years,) will be considered “frequent claimants.” All other applicants will be considered “occasional claimants.”

Along with grouping people into different categories, the government is also going to be cracking down on some of their former requirements – most specifically, making sure that people are making a reasonable effort to find a job. And that could mean accepting something that’s 30 per cent less than what the individual was making before. It could also mean having to travel up to one hour just to get to their job.

So in many ways, these changes aren’t actually changes at all, but just reinforcing and cracking down on the requirements that have been there all along. That’s what Kellie Leitch, parliamentary secretary to Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources, has to say.

“This initiative is simply clarifying what has always existed in employment insurance,” said Leitch. “We’re just making sure individuals – Canadians – know the responsibilities they have when they’re collecting EI. In fact, what we are doing is we’re enhancing our job program to make sure that these individuals know more jobs are available to them.

So not only are they imposing new rules and getting tougher on the old ones, they’re also actually helping people who are out of work, or who soon will be. And they’re helping our country, too.

While the new monitoring and additional overseeing of the new (and old) rules will cost the government about $7.2 million a year, that’s nothing compared to what it will save them. That’s a grand total of $12.5 million in 2013, and a whopping $33 million next year. But some of that saving comes from the fact that many Canadians will also have their EI pulled out from under them because they no longer meet the new standards. And it’s this that people are most upset about.

Those that are the most upset are those out in Atlantic provinces and cities, such as Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, where the unemployment rate is over 10 per cent, and many residents rely on EI to help offset the cost of living. It’s also an area where many residents rely on surrounding fisheries, mines, oil rigs, and the forestry industry as their profession – all seasonal work that requires professionals within to claim EI for some part of the year, every year. The changes have these workers angry.

“They can support themselves with seasonal work and a bit of unemployment, but now the government says we got to take a job by driving to Sydney for an hour to get a job that is paying $5 or $6 an hour, or minimum wage,” says Sandy Evans, a resident of Nova Scotia that collects EI.

$5 or $6 is a bit of stretch, seeing as how minimum wage in Canada is currently sitting at over $10. But there are concerns other than just how much money people will actually be making.

“Who can support two children, provide a home, provide groceries, pay the power bill and phone bill on 20 hours a week?” asks Nicole Provost, who is a seasonal worker at a fish plant in Nova Scotia. “You can’t.”

No, you can’t. And it’s for situations just like Nicole that the government will still be looking at each EI case individually and coming up with a tailored solution for people. If you don’t drive, the hour away from work will most likely include transit time. And if you have a family of four, the government will most likely realize that you can’t support them on 20 hours a week.

The government has been very clear that some exceptions will be made, and they will be reviewing cases individually to ensure that they aren’t hurting Canadians. In the meantime, even though many won’t like these new changes that went into effect yesterday, they really are just trying to help us by paying back the money that we owe. In addition, the government will also be setting up job fairs and job banks to help those on EI find and have better access to the jobs that are available to them.

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