It's Time to Modernize and Fix EI!

Posted July 27, 2017

On Tuesday, members of Toronto ACORN’s Employment Insurance (EI) Action Group had an informative and animated meeting with EI Commissioner, Pierre Laliberté, in Toronto. The room was packed as members and leaders presented a number of well-thought-out recommendations to address issues with EI and ensure that the process of applying for, and accessing, EI is made fairer and more accessible for low and moderate income earners.

The Action Group identified several issues with EI based on their lived experience, including: It is too hard to access benefits, too hard to keep receiving benefits that claimants are entitled to, too intrusive into workers’ personal affairs, payments are not enough, and inadequate job training. To address these issues, the action group presented testimonies of their own experiences, along with thirteen recommendations for change:

Reduce time taken between losing job and when you can apply for EI; The number of hours needed to qualify for EI should be 360 hours across the country; Address the racial and gender based inequalities of the EI system; Make application easy to process online; Develop ways for precarious workers to access EI; Allow for more flexibility when receiving benefits; End punitive job search requirements; Loosen travel restrictions on recipients; Workers who qualify should receive benefits without invasion of privacy; Benefits should be based on the worker’s best weeks at work, not the worst; Raise the benefits to 75% of earnings; Encourage good jobs through labour market training; and partner with government infrastructure projects to ensure communities are lifted out of poverty.

Mr. Laliberté was receptive to the recommendations presented and commended the group for their work and insightful testimonies, although he cautioned that the commission has limited ability to change the EI system and encouraged members to engage with their local MPs and Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, on these issues. However, the commissioner did highlight several opportunities for change that members could capitalize on:

  • The 360 hours eligibility threshold is key and should be pushed for by ACORN members. Members should also push for EI benefits of 75% of the best weeks worked by claimants.
  • There is opportunity to raise issues with EI payment clawbacks as the process is a trial which will be reviewed. The trial ends summer 2018, so now is the time to lobby for change.
  • Minister Duclos is eager to modernise EI while rolling back to former levels of benefits and accessibility. ACORN members have an important opportunity to hold him to this commitment and push for a system that better serves precarious workers, the service sector and self-employed workers/contractors.
  • There could be opportunity to fight for benefits for people who choose to leave their job, particularly if they leave to pursue education/training.
  • Members should push to raise the low income supplement threshold to at least the level of inflation since initiation.
  • While there is outrage about the system, for example, with Sears staff being laid off with no severance pay, there is an opportunity to seize the moment and call for change, such as the creation of a fund to support people who are laid off without severance.

In addition, the commissioner suggested that Minister Duclos may benefit from hearing the testimonies of ACORN members, and that the EI commission and Service Canada track media coverage of EI issues, indicating that there is potential for members’ concerns to be picked up. The meeting culminated with an open floor, where members took the opportunity to raise questions with Mr. Laliberté, which he was happy to answer. Members were clearly energized after the meeting and have already started making plans for next steps, including lobby visits, a survey with Labour, and a report to draw attention to the issues surrounding EI.