Harper government backtracks on EI changes that penalized some part-time workers

OTTAWA – The Harper government has quietly relented in the face of bruising criticism that changes it recently made to Employment Insurance were punishing those who could least afford it.

Just before MP’s headed off for the Thanksgiving long weekend, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley issued a release detailing adjustments to the Employment Insurance Working While on Claim pilot project.

Finley said the government was acting on concerns that have been raised about the pilot project.

The concern has been that part-time workers at the bottom of the pay scale who also collect E-I make less money under the pilot project because more of their E-I benefits are clawed back.

Finley announced Friday that EI recipients who were working between August 7, of last year and August 4, of this year can revert to the terms of the previous pilot project.

The change is effective January 6, 2013, but will be retroactive to August 5, 2012. And beginning January 6, 2013, eligible claimants must make the request to revert to the old pilot terms within 30 days of their last EI benefit payment.

Under the old system EI claimants who worked part-time could earn up to 40 per cent of their weekly EI benefits or $75, whichever was larger, without affecting their benefits. If their weekly earnings surpassed the 40 per cent cap the government clawed back each dollar of the extra earnings from the claimant’s EI benefits.

Under the new rules the clawback is only 50 cents on the dollar, but there is no cap. The clawback begins at the first dollar earned, meaning claimants at the lowest end of the wage scale can end up with less money.