EI Changes Make Workers More Vulnerable

September 13, 2012, 2:35 PM EST

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The Harper government's recent changes to Employment Insurance eligibility rules will increase the precariousness of jobs and undermine the bargaining power of workers across the country.

This was the message delivered to a group of over 160 community activists and union members during a special town hall meeting held in Oshawa, Ontario on September 12. The event intended to unpack the series of significant changes to federal EI rules announced earlier this year within the federal government's omnibus budget bill.

The changes include forcing laid-off workers to seek new employment, even if those jobs fall outside their usual occupation or if those jobs pay substantially lower wages, among other moves.

CAW national staff representative responsible for adjustment and employment insurance services Cammie Peirce said these changes are part of a "cheap labour strategy" that enables employers to force vulnerable workers to work longer and earn less.

"The new rules will place pressure on the unemployed to seek and accept employment that doesn't meet their needs," Peirce said. "Forcing workers to accept the first available job is not a good labour market policy. Precarious work flourishes in this environment. We want workers to find good jobs that match their skill set."

Peirce was one of three panelists that spoke to about 75 town hall participants at the CAW Local 222 union hall and another 90 watching live, from the CAW Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, via Skype.

Durham Region Labour Council President Jim Freeman criticized the government for gutting the EI appeals process, effectively firing over 900 locally-based experts (who sit on regional referee boards to hear appeals) and replacing them with just 37 individuals, considered EI "specialists" - a move that will take effect in April 2013.

Canadian Labour Congress Senior Economist Angella MacEwan flagged that the suite of EI changes could result in laid-off workers returning to work by taking a 10-30 per cent pay cut (depending on how frequently they have received EI in the past) or taking on a job that involves a commute of up to one hour or even longer.

The event was wrapped up with an hour-long open forum, where participants asked questions and expressed their concern with the new rules.  Many committed to speak directly with their local MP and MPP and participate in a CLC-led postcard campaign and future campaign initiatives. 

The EI town hall was co-sponsored by the Canadian Labour Congress - Ontario Division, the Durham Region Labour Council and CAW Local 222.

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