UPDATE: Controversial EI changes going ahead

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 13, 2012
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announces changes to Employment Insurance in Ottawa, Thursday May 24, 2012.

Sweeping changes to employment insurance rules announced last spring will be implemented in January despite ardent concerns raised by the P.E.I. government the changes will hurt seasonal workers and employers.

The changes, which specifically target repeat EI users, have passed through the regulatory process and will come into effect Jan. 6, 2013.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced Thursday new definitions regarding what will be considered a “reasonable job search” for EI claimants and also what “suitable employment” they will be expected to accept.

In an interview with The Guardian, Finley said claimants have always been obliged to look for work. The new rules now clarify the duties they are expected to fulfill in doing so.

She did also add individual circumstances will be taken into consideration.

“There are guidelines laid out in the regulations, but it’s also going to vary by personal circumstances,” she said.

“If someone is very low-skilled in an area of high unemployment where there is very little in the way of jobs, then the effort there will be obviously limited.”

A reasonable job search will require EI claimants to perform such tasks as attending workshops or job fairs, contacting prospective employers and submitting job applications.

Several factors will determine what will be considered suitable employment for those on EI to accept, including: personal or physical barriers, hours of work available and working conditions.

Commuting time will also be considered. Finley has previously said claimants would not be required to accept jobs outside a one-hour commute, but a news release Thursday said this could be higher, taking into account previous commuting history and the community’s average commuting time.

The three new categories of workers created last spring to classify unemployed workers based on how often they collect EI benefits have also been more clearly defined.

Frequent users, who will have six weeks to find a job in their field before having to look outside their field, are now defined as those who have had three or more claims for regular or fishing benefits and have collected for more than 60 weeks in the past five years.

EI claimants will also be notified daily of new job postings through a new job alert system.

A claimant may choose to receive information on jobs similar to their previous employment or the job market in other regions.

Finley said this does not mean Islanders will be expected to move to other areas for work.

“We’re not requiring that people move at all,” Finley said.

“What we do know is that a lot of people are interested in opportunities beyond their own local area and we want to make sure that they are aware of what those opportunities are so that they can make their own choices.”

But P.E.I.’s Innovation Minister Allen Roach said he is upset at the lack of consultation with the provinces regarding these changes.

P.E.I. and other Atlantic provinces have raised serious concerns over the impacts these controversial new rules will have on seasonal industries and workers.

Roach pointed to the hundreds of submissions received by Islanders and numerous letters sent from him to Finley’s office expressing this concern.

“In all of that we never got one reply, not one answer from (Finley) until it comes out today in their media release,” Roach said.

“They just steamrolled right along here… the minister just seems to be indifferent when it comes to the impact that the changes to EI will have not only here in P.E.I. but in (other) areas that will be affected across the country.”

Roach says he is also worried at the stress the new rules will cause P.E.I.’s seasonal workers who are forced to use EI on a regular basis due to the seasonal nature of the Island’s three biggest industries.

“They are really having this forced down their throat and certainly the federal government didn’t have any consultation with them,” he said.

He says he will continue to urge the federal government to reconsider their EI reforms.