By Bob Crockett
One evening this week on a national supper-hour TV show, a representative of the Conservative Party attempted to justify the Harper government's attacks on unemployed workers who are receiving EI payments. It was a rant about saving taxpayers from those EI recipients who are, as the Harperites claim, taking advantage of the system — in effect, stealing from the public tax purse.
Let's set the record straight. Money in the EI fund is not taxpayer dollars. Money received into the EI fund comes directly from workers and their employers, in the same manner as does private pension and CPP dollars.
For the sake of clarity, EI is much like a company pension plan, where dollars are deducted from an employee’s paycheque, which is matched (in the majority of cases) by the employer and paid into a pool of money, to grow with investment, and to be paid out at a later date "to the benefit of the retired employee."
Or, like the CPP, dollars are deducted from an employee and matched by the employer and received into a pool of money to be invested, grow and paid out later to "the benefit of the employee."
In both cases — that is, the company pension plan and CPP — a third party actually handles the investment.
In the same way as a company pension plan and the CPP are funded, EI dollars are deducted from the employee's paycheque and matched by the employer and "supposedly" deposited into the EI fund for the future benefit of unemployed workers. In effect, it’s an insurance plan purchased by the employee, with financial assistance from the employer, to be utilized at a later date "to the benefit of the unemployed worker."
Where the EI scenario differs, and differs significantly, from the two examples above, is that there is no third party in the picture that receives and invests the dollars. A federal government department/entity receives the deducted monies directly from the employer.
This is where the picture gets murky.
Over the years, governments (Conservative and Liberal) have paid out "some" of the UIC/EI dollars in benefits and kept the surplus.
In a recent newspaper column, Dan Leger reported that the so-called "EI surplus" reached a total, on paper, of $57 billion at one point.
Where has this surplus gone? "Vanished into the haze of federal spending," claims Leger.
Imagine if that money was still available, grown through investment, and to be used for what it was originally intended. Employees and employers alike would not have to be paying ever-increasing premiums, imposed by successive federal governments, and the unemployed would not have to suffer decreasing benefits and the stigma of unemployment, or the claims that EI claimants are taking the taxpayer for a ride.
It is time to take the “target" off the backs of the unemployed.
Bob Crockett of Charlottetown worked for 27 years as a national representative of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, during which time he saw many changes to the unemployment insurance system.