TORONTO—With more than 10% of people in the Greater Toronto Area unemployed and young Canadians facing the aftermath of a summer with the second-highest unemployment on record (19.2%) as they return to classes, the Good Jobs for All Coalition hosted a town hall meeting about the current jobs crisis and the broken Employment Insurance program on Monday evening.Toronto area workers were joined by Quebec Federation of Labour/Unemployed Coalition representatives who spoke about their successful mobilising around EI reform and the rights of the unemployed.
Unemployed workers and their community partners resolved to renew their efforts to urge the minority Conservative government and all MPs to fix EI by reducing the number of hours required to qualify, extending the number of benefit weeks and increasing benefit payments.
“I worked as a machine operator full-time for eight years and never claimed EI until 2,400 of my co-workers and I lost our jobs in July 2008,” said Arvinder Saini, former employee of Progressive Moulded Products (PMP). “Even though we were ‘long-tenured’ workers, because our EI claims started before January, we won’t see any benefit from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unfair proposal. Our EI payments have already run out and we still can’t find jobs, so we need real EI repairs today.”
“Our message has been the same since this recession began: fix EI now,” said Tam Goossen, Co-chair of the Good Jobs for All Coalition. “Community, labour and student groups working together have made the broken EI program an issue that can’t be ignored. Now we’re going to keep pushing for the government to pay back the $57 billion EI surplus it owes to unemployed Canadians.”
“There is no recovery for working people and the EI changes proposed by the Conservatives will help only a select few older workers,” said Judy Rebick, CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University. “What we need is a united movement of workers, youth and unemployed people to fight for a return to unemployment insurance for all workers and a recovery policy that puts the most vulnerable first.”
“History tells us that community groups or unions couldn’t force the Employment Insurance improvements alone,” said Daniel Champagne of the Montreal Labour Council. “When we joined together, things started to get better. Now we realise that we need to forge alliances with groups in other provinces in order to get the compassionate EI program that workers of this country deserve.”
The Good Jobs for All Coalition and, before Parliament recessed for the summer, all three federal opposition parties in the House of Commons have called on the Harper government to fix EI by:
- lowering the qualifying threshold to 360 hours worked for everyone across the country;
- restoring benefits to at least 60% of normal earnings using each worker’s best 12 weeks; and
- eliminating the two-week waiting period.
The Good Jobs for All Coalition also continues to recommend that an additional year of “Special Extension” EI benefits be provided if the national unemployment exceeds 6.5%—to be paid from the federal government’s general revenues. Statistics Canada reported that, as of August, the national unemployment rate was 8.7%.
According to the former Chief Actuary of the Employment Insurance program, the EI fund surplus could reach approximately $58 billion when the next public accounts report is released this fall. Even after the anticipated higher draw on the EI program during the current 2009-2010 fiscal year is accounted for, the EI surplus is estimated to remain close to its current level of $57 billion.
In a February 2005 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, then Official Opposition HRSDC critic Peter Van Loan said:
“The Conservative Party believes that the government needs to be held accountable for the cumulative balance in the Employment Insurance account which continues to grow year after year, despite repeated objections by the Auditor General that it violates the Employment Insurance Act.” (page 71)
“We believe that the slate must not be wiped clean. It is important to all contributors that the government be held accountable. The ‘notional surplus’ (now $46 billion) has been tracked for a reason – that is to recognize what contributors have paid into Employment Insurance. The Conservative Party believes that this surplus is the property of those who have made the contributions to Employment Insurance – the workers and employers of Canada.” (page 72)