Rules for EI to be tightened

Frequent claimants could have to face pay cuts up to 30 per cent
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 05/24/2012

The federal government is revising employment insurance (EI) to include changes to the definition of “suitable employment” and a “reasonable” job search and deal with the issue of high unemployment alongside job shortages in certain areas.

The improvements will enhance the assistance provided to people collecting EI benefits, according to Diane Finley, minister of human resources and skills development.

For example, Canadians receiving EI benefits will now receive comprehensive job postings on a daily basis from multiple sources. And the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) will be better connected to EI to ensure Canadians are aware of and can apply for local jobs before employers hire temporary foreign workers.

“As Canada faces unprecedented skills shortages, it will be critical to better connect Canadians with available jobs in their local area,” said Finley. “Clarifying what is expected of claimants looking for work is just one element of our broader plan to encourage and support Canadians as they seek to return to work. Under our plan, Canadians will always benefit financially from accepting suitable employment.”

Suitable employment

The current legislation lacks clarity with respect to what constitutes suitable employment and a reasonable job search, said the government. Should the Jobs, Growth, and Long-term Prosperity Act receive royal assent, the government will define both in new regulations.

Several factors will determine the definition for suitable employment: personal circumstances, working conditions, hours of work and commuting time.

Two additional criteria will vary based on the claimant’s EI history and duration of the claim. They are type of work (responsibilities, tasks, qualifications, experience) and wages.

In determining these criteria, EI claimants will be placed in one of three categories:
•Long-tenured workers would be those who have paid into the EI system for the past seven of 10 years and who, over the last five years, have collected EI regular or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less.
•Frequent claimants would be those who have had three or more claims for regular or fishing benefits and collected benefits for a total of more than 60 weeks in the past five years.
•Occasional claimants would be all other claimants.

Long-tenured workers: Would include claimants who have paid into the EI system for the past seven of 10 years and over the last five years have received 35 or fewer weeks of EI regular/fishing benefits.

Long-tenured workers would be required to expand the scope of their job search the longer they receive EI benefits. However, they would be provided with significantly more time to search for a job within their usual occupation and at a similar wage (starting at 90 per cent of previous hourly wage). After 18 weeks on EI benefits, long-tenured workers would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normal perform and to accept wages starting at 80 per cent of their previous hourly wage.

Frequent claimants: Would include claimants who had three or more regular or fishing claims and received more than 60 weeks of regular or fishing benefits in the past five years.

Frequent claimants would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normal perform at the onset of their EI claim (one to six weeks) and accept wages starting at 80 per cent of their previous hourly wage. After receiving benefits for seven weeks, they would be required to accept any work they are qualified to perform (with on-the-job training, if required) and to accept wages starting at 70 per cent of their previous hourly wage.

Occasional claimants: Would include all claimants not captured by the definitions of frequent and long-tenured worker claimants. They have limited experience of being unemployed and looking for work.

Occasional claimants would be allowed to limit their job search to their usual occupation and wage (at least 90 per cent of previous hourly wage) for the first six weeks of their claim. After receiving benefits for seven weeks, they would be required to expand their job search to jobs similar to the job they normally perform with wages at 80 per cent of previous earnings. After 18 weeks, they would be required to further expand their job search to include any work they are qualified to perform (with on-the-job training, if required) and accept wages starting at 70 per cent of their previous earnings but not lower than the prevailing minimum wage.

The legislation has the potential for backlash in areas of high and seasonal employment, such as Atlantic Canada, which has more than 10 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, said Reuters. People will not be forced to move to get benefits but will be expected to commute up to one hour if they have the means of transport.

"Let me be crystal clear," said Finley. "The changes that we are proposing to EI are not about forcing people to move across Canada or to take work that doesn't match their skill set. Our goal is to help Canadians find local work that matches their skills."

Job search

The government is providing clarity on what constitutes a reasonable job search. EI claimants’ job search efforts would be assessed based on the following criteria:

Job search and employability activities: Canadians receiving EI benefits will be required to complete the following job search activities while collecting benefits:
•research and assessing job prospects
•prepare for job application (preparing resume)
•search for job vacancies
•apply for positions
•attend interviews
•other efforts to improve employability (such as workshops, employment agencies, job fairs and networking).

Intensity of job search effort: Canadians receiving EI benefits will be required to look for a job every day they receive benefits. The frequency and diversity of their job search should be consistent with the opportunities available. For example, in a city or community with few job openings or opportunities, the job search should focus on identifying opportunities (researching and searching) and not applying to the same job or business every day. In comparison, a job search in an area with numerous job opportunities should focus on both identifying and applying for available positions.

Type of work being sought: The work being sought by a Canadian receiving EI benefits will have to align with the definition of suitable employment.

Evidence of job search efforts: Canadians receiving EI benefits would be required to keep a record of their job search activities and submit, when requested, evidence supporting all job search activities undertaken.

Temporary foreign workers

The government will introduce co-ordination between the TFWP and EI program to better connect unemployed Canadians with available jobs, in their local area. Canadians should have the opportunity to access these jobs before employers turn to temporary foreign workers.

For example:
•In January 2012, Albertan employers received positive confirmation for 1,261 TFWP positions for food counter attendants. At the same time, nearly 350 people made a claim for EI who had cited significant experience in the same occupation and province.
•More than 2,200 general farm workers in Ontario submitted claims for EI in the same month, while employers received approval to hire more than 1,500 foreign nationals for the same occupation.
•On the East Coast, in January 2012, Prince Edward Island collected 294 claims for EI from out-of-work fish plant workers, while 60 TFWs were approved to enter the province to work in the same occupation.

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