Commons Committee calls for overhaul of EI to cover self-employed and self-employed workers

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OTTAWA – A House of Commons committee recommends increasing the value and duration of EI benefits and expanding the system to cover temporary workers and the self-employed.

Her Thursday report also asks whether special benefits, such as maternity and parental leave, should be bundled into their own schedule, and recommends extending sickness benefits to 50 weeks.

To pay for the moves, the committee said federal officials should consider asking the government to once again help fund EI in addition to premiums paid by employees and employers.

The committee says EI no longer reflects the realities of today’s job market, nor is it well positioned to respond to sudden disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a dissenting opinion, the Bloc Québécois stressed the need for reforms, but underlined the party’s fear that the opportunity for change would be lost due to the government’s usual complacency.

Last year, the government effectively shut down parts of the EI system over fears that historic job losses at the start of the pandemic could crush the decades-old program and instead place unemployed Canadians in emergency aid in the event of a pandemic.

The situation has exposed long-known problems with EI, including the fact that not all workers may qualify for benefits and others are completely stranded.

April’s federal budget committed $ 5 million for a biennial EI review, which the government hopes will allow time to begin much-needed upgrades to the aging computer system that manages the program.

The federal budget also proposed $ 648 million over seven years to fund a long-term technological upgrade of the EI system, the oldest parts of which are based on the programming language of the 1960s.

In the meantime, the government is also planning to extend certain measures related to the pandemic that the committee says should become permanent, such as lowering the bar to qualify and eliminating the one-week wait before receiving benefits.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated Thursday that allowing workers to qualify for benefits after 420 hours of work, rather than 600 or more, will cost federal coffers $ 574 million this year and $ 930 million over the next year. 12 month period that will follow.

A second report estimated that lifting the one-week waiting period for benefits would cost $ 356 million over two years, just above the $ 320 million budgeted.

Committee Conservatives noted lingering concerns about unemployed new mothers who, after being taken through the social safety net, do not have enough hours to qualify for maternity and parental leave benefits. The party urged the government to quickly close the loophole.

“It is a national disgrace that these women, despite having paid into the EI program for years, are now ineligible for maternity benefits and forced to cut short precious time with their newborns to return to the workplace. work so that they can provide for the needs of their growing family, ”reads a dissenting report from the opposition.

The committee also suggested that federal officials consider how to make it easier for new parents on EI-funded leave to work without compromising their federal benefits, known as “working while on claim.”

A new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy finds that EI claimants who worked while on claim were more likely to take part-time work or work longer hours, which improved their employment prospects.

With about half of EI claimants using the provisions, the study authors make a similar recommendation to the committee, but add that the income limit increases during economic downturns when part-time jobs tend to be more numerous and more accessible.

Many of the committee’s recommendations also match calls from Unifor, the country’s largest private sector union, including ensuring migrant workers qualify for benefits and improving retraining options.

“We have no time to waste,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in a statement accompanying the release of his union’s recommendations on EI.

“Decades of cutbacks have made working Canadians vulnerable to exploitation by employers and dependent on a program that excludes far too many.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 17, 2021.

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