Employment Insurance policies draw a protest

Protesters take part in Scarborough rally against employment insurance policies they call unfair on March 16. (Courtesy Abi Singam)
Protesters take part in Scarborough rally against employment insurance policies they call unfair on March 16. (Courtesy Abi Singam) (ei_033009)

Several hundred people demonstrated outside a Scarborough Employment Insurance office on March 16 to press the federal government to change employment insurance policies.

The rally was organized by the the Good Jobs for All Coalition, a group of over 35 labour, social, and community organizations.

The government has shown a lack of response to the global economic crisis, the rally was told by Peggy Nash, senior representative of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and member of the Coalition.

“Employment insurance is one of the best economic stabilizers during a downturn,” Nash said. Yet the new budget introduced in Ottawa earlier this year contained no efforts to fix employment insurance policies, she said.

Because the rules for EI had been changed earlier, she said, the government ended up with a massive surplus.

But rather than fix it to help mitigate the crisis, the government chose to balance the budget, Nash said.

She called for EI to be made easier for people to access, since “a majority of unemployed people can’t collect it. There’s a patchwork of hoops to jump through.”

With unemployment in Ontario at 8.7 per cent, its highest rate in 12 years, more citizens might need the temporary help of employment insurance these days.

However, due to policy changes introduced from 1990 to 1996, many Ontario citizens are finding the insurance failing them when they need it most.

StatsCan reports that only 30 per cent of the unemployed in Ontario qualify for EI.

This number is less then the national average of 40 per cent and much less than the 80 per cent boasted by Newfoundland and New Brunswick.

The objective of the rally was what Nash referred to as “a call to the federal government.”

The coalition proposes the government set a standard of the minimum required hours to qualify for the universal insurance. Right now, the standards varies in different areas across Ontario.

In addition, the Coalition wants beneficiaries to receive a minimum of 60 per cent of their former wages for 50 weeks. The current system allows only 38 weeks.

Nash says she remains optimistic about their chances, pointing out the rally so far has been “making an impression in the media.”