Ottawa puts new employment insurance regime into effect early next month

OTTAWA – Ottawa is forging ahead with contentious changes to employment insurance, announcing an implementation date of Jan. 6, despite heated opposition from unions and politicians from eastern Canada.

Starting in the new year, people on EI will face stricter, more complex rules for keeping their benefits, with the goal of getting unemployed workers back into the workforce sooner.

As Human Resources Minister Diane Finley initially announced last May, new regulations will encourage unemployed workers to take available jobs fairly close to home, even if they pay a bit less than their previous work.

“The regulatory process is complete now, so it’s time to move forward and bring it into effect,” Finley said in an interview.

“They’re going to see a lot more in the way of support in helping them finding a new job. they’re going to receiving more job alerts, and they’re going to have access to supports in that regard. I think that’s a huge improvement than what’s in the past.”

Finley spelled out the details on Thursday.

As always, EI claimants need to be engaged in a “reasonable job search” to find “suitable employment,” but now, those terms have been defined more concisely.

Starting in January, a reasonable job search includes research job opportunities, preparing a resume, registering for job banks, attending job fairs, applying for jobs, and undergoing competency evaluations.

“Suitable employment” will be determined by:

— Personal circumstances, such as health, physical capability to perform work, family obligations, transportation options;

— Whether commuting time is within one hour of home, or perhaps more depending a claimant’s previous commuting history and the average commuting time in the community;

— Whether the hours of the new job are compatible with the claimant’s life;

— Whether the position in question is simply available because of a labour dispute;

— A person’s qualifications and wages.

Eligibility will also be determined by whether a claimant is considered a long-tenured worker, a frequent claimant or occasional claimant.

“It’s all going to be based on personal circumstances,” Finley said.

“What was the individual’s previous work pattern? How long was their previous commute? What kind of hours did they work? Day shift or night shift? Will they be incurring additional expenses for a new job such as travel or child care?”

At the same time, the government will be sending each claimant more labour market information — job postings and other information about the local job market. Plus, the government has pledged to strengthen the links between EI and the temporary foreign worker program, to make sure foreigners aren’t being brought in to take jobs that Canadians need.

But unions and opposition MPs say the federal government is hurting seasonal workers and easterners, and will force people to take low-paying jobs.

“For workers in the Atlantic provinces, these reforms are catastrophic,” said Wayne Lucas, Newfoundland and Labrador president for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“Their impact will be hardest on the thousands of workers in seasonal industries such as fishing, forestry, construction and tourism, including a high proportion of women.”

Finley said she has listened to the concerns of seasonal workers.

“The opposition has portrayed the new guidelines as very regimental and without any flexibility. and that’s absolutely not the case. It’s all about common sense, and making sure the person is better off working than not.”