The Conservative government’s plan to speed up the return of Canada’s unemployed into the labour market will include more stringent rules as to what kind of jobs EI recipients should be prepared to accept.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley will outline the new Employment Insurance rules Thursday, after weeks of speculation over how the minister plans to use new powers conveyed upon her by the government’s omnibus budget bill. That bill will allow her to define “suitable employment,” giving her the power to make EI recipients broaden their hunt to include positions that may pay less or be further away than their last job.
The new rules will replace the often subjective language in the current rules. New and repeat EI users are expected to be treated differently, in that repeat recipients will have to expand their searches into lower-paying jobs.
The morning news conference and technical briefing will be the first official explanation of the government’s EI reforms since they were included in the April 26 budget bill. Alyson Queen, a spokesperson for Ms. Finley, said the minister will be clarifying what the expectations are of Canadians collecting EI. “There’ll be a fair bit of detail,” she said.
That budget bill, C-38, removes sections of the Employment Insurance Act that allow EI recipients to turn down an available job as not “suitable” if it pays less than their previous job or does not offer good working conditions. The bill also empowers the human resources minister to create new rules at any time without parliamentary approval through regulation.
Thursday’s announcement will mark the first significant changes to the core EI rules in over a decade. In 2001, the then-Liberal government brought in several EI reforms, many of which undid controversial changes that had been implemented in 1996.
For instance, the 2001 changes repealed an “intensity rule” from 1996 that reduced the rate of benefits by up to 5 per cent for repeat users of EI.
Charles Cirtwill, the president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based public policy think tank, said his concern is that the government’s comments to date suggest the measures will be aimed at punishing employees, not employers.
“This is all targeted at the employees and frankly I find that a little frustrating. It demonstrates who has power in the political process and who doesn’t,” he said.
He said the government should be requiring companies and workers who are frequent users of EI to pay higher premiums. He’d also like to see Canada move away from 58 economic EI zones in favour of having the same rules across the country, but he doesn’t expect that either of those two options are on the table.
Union leaders have argued that the EI changes, coupled with the federal expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker program, is an attempt by Ottawa to help employers reduce labour costs.
But Dan Kelly, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s senior vice-president, dismisses that argument outright.
“The fact is that no employer in their right mind is going to hire a temporary foreign worker if there are locally available workers,” he said. “There are massive additional costs to bringing in a temporary foreign worker.”
Mr. Kelly said his hope is that the government will replace the largely subjective rules around EI with much clearer guidelines to prevent abuse. “Average Canadians who may find themselves once or twice in their life out of work and dependent on EI, I think have difficultly getting their heads around the fact that there is a category of Canadians out there that really do almost everything they can to not work,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to do something about.”
Ken Georgetti, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, argues the government should remove the EI reforms from the budget bill and study them independently. He said employers should be objecting to having the EI rules move into regulations that can be changed on a whim.
“This takes away all of the certainty that lets people plan their lives and make decisions on their future,” he said.