Protest calls for changes to employment insurance

More than 300 people, from community groups to laid-off manufacturing workers, held a rally outside a Canada Employment Insurance (EI) office in Scarborough Monday to call for changes to eligibility rules and benefits.

A chorus of “fix EI now!” rose as protestors demanded Ottawa respond to growing economic misery by bringing in changes to the ‘fractured EI system.’

Organized by the Good Jobs for All Coalition, protestors held up signs with the words ‘360 hours’ written in red ink; ‘360’ symbolizes the number of hours the coalition believes workers should need to qualify for EI benefits.

According to Settlement Ontario, to receive EI benefits in Ontario a person has to work between 420 and 700 hours, but that threshold varies depending on the area of the province.

Winnie Ng, co-chair of the Good Jobs Coalition, said EI standards vary from province to province resulting in different thresholds and criteria for different regions.

“One in every five unemployed women in Toronto receive EI. One in every four unemployed men receive EI. The reason it’s so low is because the government has raised the eligibility criteria level so high,” she said.

Ng said many people don’t know the facts about EI and are shocked when they discover they do not meet the EI criteria. Given today’s economic climate she added, the last resort for these unemployed is social assistance.

Winston Tinglin, director of community engagement for the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, said the current EI guidelines are not “realistic” and feels Ottawa needs to adapt the program to better respond to today’s bleak labour landscape.

“We want to ensure those in the work force have an opportunity when out of work,” he said . “(Our) main aim is to prompt MP’s to bring the issue forward.”

Filed by Caroline George