Posted on September 15, 2021
ACORN Votes 2021: Modernizing EI Platform
The pandemic exposed the inherent gaps in the current Employment Insurance (EI) system forcing the government to start a completely new benefit to assist all workers. However, the changes made to the EI system are incomplete and temporary. Before COVID, only 40% of workers received income support from EI, the situation is far worse in urban centres. Several low-wage, precarious workers have been continuously failed by the current EI system.
Not only do we need changes that were made during COVID to be made permanent but further actions need to be taken to ensure that no one is left behind. Many workers who are paying into EI are unable to access it. Moreover, the benefit rate is grossly low and therefore does not allow especially the low-wage workers to have access to a decent income support in the event of job loss. We need an EI system that is accessible, adequate and non-discriminatory.
ACORN's Modernizing EI Platform
- Immediately start a comprehensive review of EI.
- Fund EI. For the last 30 years, the federal government has not been funding EI.
Make EI Accessible for all workers
- Lower the hour requirement consistently across the country to 300 hours or 12 weeks of insurable work, whichever is better for the worker. It's impossible for many low-wage and precarious workers in part-time and/or temporary jobs to access the system even when they pay into it.
- The government must provide EI access for temporary foreign workers, seasonal agricultural workers, and international students who currently cannot access EI due to work permit restrictions.
- Develop permanent ways for precarious workers to access EI, including the self-employed. Currently, self-employed workers are excluded from EI because they do not pay into it. Workers are also increasingly misclassified as independent contractors or self-employed. We recommend that the federal government makes paying into EI special benefits mandatory for all self-employed workers.
- Expand EI to include ‘quit/fire,’ ‘refuse work,’ or school attendance. Many women workers (who leave due to care responsibilities, harassment, etc.) and vulnerable workers in unsafe working positions should be able to access EI.
- Expand the qualifying period to atleast 2 years making it easier to allow hard working people who have paid into the system to use it.
- Raise the benefit rates for all workers to 75% of earnings; and raise benefits to 100% of earnings for low-wage workers. While changes have been made setting the minimum EI rate at $500 a week with a maximum of $573 per week, these are temporary during COVID.
- Ensure better support for educational opportunities as many workers might have to transition from their jobs to another sector.
Where do parties stand?
- Maintain emergency benefits until the pandemic is over.
- Review EI.
- Address the systemic challenges of EI, including the regional disparities, the inequity for women and racialized workers, the exclusion of migrant workers, and the lack of access for persons living with disabilities.
- Tackle misclassification of workers, which ends up excluding many workers by claiming they are not employees. To make it easier for people living with chronic illnesses or episodic disabilities to access EI, create a pilot project that would allow workers to access EI sickness benefits a day at a time, as they need them.
- Create a low income supplement so that no one who is relying on EI regular or special benefits to stay afloat receives less than $2,000 a month. Extend EI sickness benefits to 50 weeks.
- Make it easier for workers to seek retraining, to provide childcare, or to protect their health or the health of immunocompromised family members by allowing workers to collect EI even when they quit their jobs to go back to school or to provide care.
- Introduce a new EI benefit for self-employed Canadians, delivered through the tax system, that would provide unemployment assistance comparable to EI and lasting for as much as 26 weeks.
- Strengthen rights for workers employed by digital platforms so that they are entitled to job protections under the Canada Labour Code and establish new provisions in the Income Tax Act to ensure this work counts toward EI and CPP while also making these platforms pay associated contributions.
- Stronger and more inclusive EI system that addresses gaps made obvious during COVID-19. Based on the input received from consultations on the future of EI, bring forward a vision for a new and modern EI system that covers all workers, including workers in seasonal employment, and which is simpler and more responsive for both workers and employers.
- Launch a Super EI that temporarily provides more generous benefits (75% of salary instead of 55%) when a province goes into recession (a 0.5% increase in the unemployment rate, as defined by the “Sahm Rule”). EI will return to normal levels once the recession is over, as evidenced by three months of job gains
- Require gig economy companies to make contributions equivalent to CPP and EI premiums into a new, portable Employee Savings Account every time they pay their workers.