Jack Layton, leader of the federal NDP party, attended a June 13th rally to lend his support to calls from labour for Employment Insurance reform. It was estimated that over 2,000 people attended the Toronto event.
Jack Layton attended a boisterous but peaceful rally where an estimated couple of thousand people demanded reforms for Canada's Employment Insurance program in downtown Toronto. Organized by the Canadian Labour Council, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council and the Good Jobs for All Coalition, the rally focused on asking for reforms to Employment Insurance such as a standardization of time needed to qualify for EI across Canada, as well as lengthening the amount of time a person may collect EI benefits. The labour coalition also called for Canada to protect pensions and public services, saying people should come before banks. Other activists want to see EI reforms in place that will reduce anxiety and financial instability for those people who have "precarious" employment, such as is offered through temp agencies. Such reforms include reducing the number of hours required to be eligible for EI. It is harder to qualify for Employment Insurance when one is only put to work for a day or a week at a time, but then experiences periods of no work at all.
Layton assured the crowd that a bill to standardize some EI qualifications across Canada is due to be read in the House of Commons. Bill C-217 falls short of demands from labour leaders, who are asking that the EI waiting period be waived and that benefit levels be increased in addition to standardization of qualifications. The Canadian Auto Workers said that Statistics Canada figures showed that the number of people receiving Employment Insurance increased by 65,300 people since February 2009. As of late May, 681,000 Canadians are in receipt of Employment Insurance.
The purpose of Bill C-217 is to "extend the benefit period and the maximum number of weeks benefits are payable to persons on compassionate care leave." This is the fourth attempt to amend this aspect of Employment Insurance. The Bill, if passed, will standardize the amount of time allotted for compassionate leave across Canada to 52 weeks.
Canada's Employment Insurance program underwent significant reforms in the 1990s in an attempt to decrease what was seen as "reliance" on benefits by a portion of the population. The pre-recession analysis conducted by the C.D. Howe institute also concluded that "generous benefits" encouraged people to work seasonal jobs, collecting EI benefits for the rest of the year.
The Employment Insurance program has been in the news regularly since before the recession was declared, due to the increase in unemployment figures and the difficulty laid-off employees have had accessing benefits.