Job numbers highlight need for urgent EI reform

February 5, 2016

Canada’s largest labour organization says today’s job numbers from Statistics Canada highlight the need for the kind of economic stimulus that urgently needed Employment Insurance (EI) reforms would produce now.

The job market was stagnant in January and unemployment rose to 7.2 percent. In Alberta, unemployment rose to 7.4 percent, the first time it has been above the national average since 1988. 

Over the past year, unemployment has risen by 123,000 workers across the country: more than half of these (69,000) are in Alberta. Most job creation has been in Ontario, while other provinces continue to struggle with slack labour markets. 

Self-employment has grown twice as fast (1.3 percent) as employment (0.6 percent). Private sector job growth continues to be weak, adding only 30,000 jobs over the past 12 months — a growth rate of only 0.3 percent. Two sectors account for most job growth over the last year — health care and social assistance added 90,000 positions, and professional, scientific, and technical services added 38,000 positions.

“These job numbers and the slow economic growth we’re seeing now demonstrate the need for the kind of immediate stimulus that would come from urgently needed fixes to the employment insurance program,” said CLC president Hassan Yussuff.

The Liberal government has promised to review and improve the program, but Yussuff says there are urgently needed reforms that can be immediately implemented.

“Fewer than 40 percent of unemployed Canadians – and fewer than 37 percent of unemployed Albertans – are receiving EI,” said Yussuff. “Part of the problem is that workers run out of benefits before they can find a new job.” 

The immediate reforms the CLC hopes to see include:

  • Temporarily extending EI benefits for an additional five weeks to help displaced workers who risk exhausting their benefits while hunting for hard-to-find jobs. This would be especially helpful in hardest hit regions where jobs are especially scarce.
  • Returning to the previous definition of “suitable employment” and restoring the “best 14 weeks” pilot programs that created a single national standard for determining benefit levels. 
  • Eliminating the eligibility requirement of 910 hours of insured employment for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market to make access to EI fairer, especially for young workers and new Canadians.
  • Hiring staff to make up for years of devastating cuts under the Conservatives to help eliminate unacceptable delays faced by workers trying to get benefits approved, decisions on appeals, or questions answered. 
  • Implementing the election promise for an increase of $200-million in funding for provincial literacy and essential-skills training aimed at those who don’t qualify for EI. While it’s not part of EI, it would help where it’s needed most.

“It takes time for infrastructure spending to kick in and create jobs, so let’s act now to stop penalizing unemployed workers, get them the benefits they paid into and so urgently need, and help them start contributing to their local economies again,” said Yussuff.

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