Thousands protested in the province of Quebec, in the Canadian capital Ottawa, and also in the Province of New Brunswick against the changes made by the Conservative government to Canada's Employment Insurance (EI) program.
The legislation changing the terms of Canadian Employment Insurance benefits was passed last May as reported in Digital Journal. The misnamed Employment Insurance program is actually an unemployment insurance program. "Unemployment" however is a censored word even among Conservative politicians, unless it is to blame the opposition for unemployment. As a result we no longer have unemployment insurance for the unemployed but the same thing under another name.
The program is not financed at all by the govenrment so however payments are made for whatever reason really does not affect government finances. The program is run by the Employment Insurance Financing Board whose mandate is described as follows:
Canada’s employment insurance program supports Canadians during periods of unemployment. The program is funded through the contributions of Canadian employers and employees. Our task is to set EI premiums in a transparent way and to temporarily hold and manage any surplus EI premiums that accrue from January 1, 2009, onwards-ensuring the financial sustainability of the EI program.
There are some positive aspects to the changes brought in by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, including the ability to sign up for a job alerts system that will send job alerts postings twice a day to those participating. There are also new benefits for those recipients with children who are ill. Much of the criticism stems from the effect the new system will have on seasonal workers and areas of the country that depend upon them.
The new provisions will require laid-off seasonal workers to go further afield to look for work and to accept jobs that would pay as little as 70% of their previous hourly wage. The workers will be expected to look for work within a 100 kilometer range of their home.
In Montreal, Quebec, the executive director of the construction section of the Quebec Federation of Labour was active in organizing protests. Yves Ouellet claimed that new rules would have negative effects on many Canadian families:"We must get together and be heard as a united front against this government." The head of the QFL, Michel Arsenault said that that the new rules sowed insecurity among seasonal workers, robbed students of jobs, and encouraged people to lie about their work history. Arsenault also is angry at the government's decision to send bureaucrats to people's homes to check out their unemployment histories. About 50 federal government employees will have the job of paying visits to EI claimants. Between January and the end of March 1,200 randomly-selected claimants will meet with the officials.
Arsenault claimed that it is like living under a dictatorship. He noted that provinces such as Quebec, which do not usually vote Conservative, have been targeted under the changes. The Quebec provincial labour minister Agnes Maltais also took part in the protests and demanded that Ottawa rescind the reforms. She is expected to meet with the federal Human Resources Minister Diane Fnley on February 27.
While critics said that the new regulations will cause hardships for many families the government insisted that numerous factors were taken into account when considering whether a job was suitable for claimants. protests The Minister of Veterans' Affairs insisted:"The reform takes work conditions, schedule and commute into account. We even take into account babysitting fees and the costs affiliated to commuting."
As part of the reforms, claimants are divided into three different groups. It is the frequent claimants, often seasonal workers or fishermen, who will be hardest hit by the new changes and are complaining most: Long-tenured workers: "those who have paid at least 30 per cent of the annual maximum EI premiums for 7 of the past 10 years and who, over the last 5 years, have collected EI regular or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less."
Frequent claimants: "those who have had three or more claims for EI regular or fishing benefits and have collected benefits for a total of more than 60 weeks in the past 5 years."
Occasional claimants: "all other claimants."