Is it time to change the EI system to give Albertans a break?
The number of weeks a person is eligible for Employment Insurance is tied to their province’s unemployment rate. However, given its current economic situation – layoffs, plunging oil prices, soaring unemployment – there are calls to give Alberta a break and change the EI process.
As of December 2015, Newfoundland’s unemployment rate was 14.4 per cent. Alberta’s was 7.0 per cent.
A person who had worked 1,820 hours prior to be being laid off (due to no fault of their own) would receive a maximum of 45 weeks of EI benefits in Newfoundland, but would top out at only 40 weeks in Alberta.
If a person only had 420 hours of work before losing their job, a Newfoundlander would receive up to 28 weeks of EI, while an Albertan would receive no EI benefits.
In the final two months of 2015, the unemployment rate for Alberta men was higher than the Canadian average for the first time since 1989.
The number of Albertans receiving EI has also risen — from 28,790 to 57,980 within a year. In November 2015, that number rose to 61,300. The latest EI update from Statistics Canada showed both Edmonton (4.7 per cent) and Calgary (3.3 per cent) saw the number of people getting EI rise, as did most Alberta cities.
Again, it gets grimmer for men: The percentage of working Alberta men receiving EI almost tripled in 12 months.
And that’s only the unemployed people who qualify for EI. In Alberta, that’s barely a third of the total number of people who are out of work.
Alberta’s jobs minister is optimistic improvements can be made to the federal EI system.
“Albertans across our province are facing the effects of the drop in commodity prices, including layoffs,” Minister Lori Sigurdson said. “Our government is committed to supporting families to find good, mortgage-paying jobs and improving their skills through the economic downturn.
“Enhancements to the EI system would offer Albertans support while they access additional training to allow them to re-enter the labour market.
“We believe this would be an important investment in our province’s already skilled workforce,” the minister of jobs, skills, training and labour added.
On Monday evening, Employment and Social Development Canada issued an email statement to Global News that said the government “is sensitive to the ongoing situation resulting from lower oil prices and is carefully monitoring impacts in Alberta” as well as other parts of the country.
In the statement, the federal ministry also said it is involved in ongoing talks with the Alberta government over how to move forward with a number of initiatives including:
-Eliminating discrimination against workers that are newly entering the workforce or re-entering the workforce
-Reversing the 2012 changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) system related to suitable job search and employment
-Investing more each year in Labour Market Development Agreements to provinces and territories to support training for unemployed workers
-Developing more flexible parental benefits
-Easing access to EI support for caregivers
-Reducing EI premiums
-Undertaking a broad review of the EI system with the goal of modernizing our system of income support for unemployed workers
In the statement, the government also said EI is designed to be able to react to downturns in local economies by reducing the threshold for eligibility when a region’s unemployment rate rises. It cites the Northern Alberta region as an example; in January 2016, qualification for benefits dropped to 455 hours from 630 hours in December 2014 because of the rise in unemployment. It also said the minimum entitlement there has been extended to 24 weeks, up from 17.
Have you recently lost your job and struggled with the EI process? We’d like to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and vote in our poll.
With files from Anna Mehler Paperny, Global News
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