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Advocates demand federal party leaders make unemployment insurance easier to access

Milano's grocery store. Felicia Parrillo/Global News

A coalition of groups came together in Montreal on Sunday to demand better access to unemployment benefits.

“The time is now,” said Milan Bernard, an advisor for the National Council of Unemployed Workers (CNC). “The social safety net is an issue that people want to hear about after the pandemic.”

The CNC, along with Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard, the Quebec Theatre Council and Mouvement Action-Chômage de Charlevoix, convened a press conference to get the attention of federal political party leaders.

With the country in full campaign mode, the advocates wanted to make it clear that unemployment programs put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic should be a catalyst for employment insurance reform.

“We want to make sure that what we had with the pandemic is a starting point for a new, renewed reform of employment insurance,” said Bernard.

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They want to see temporary and part-time workers covered by unemployment, and for the rules to be simplified.

“We want to make sure that what we’ve been able to do, that the kind of measures that we’ve been able to benefit from in our communities during the pandemic, will stay and remain,” said Picard.

The country and the province are in the midst of a huge labour shortage, with many businesses no longer able to remain open seven days a week due to a lack of staff.

In late July, owner of the grocery store Milano, Mario Zaurrini, told Global News he’d be closing on Monday.

“We have to give a break to our staff,” he said. Zaurrini pointed to government subsidies paying people to stay home as part of the reason for the staff shortage.

Quebec Employers’ Council President Karl Blackburn says the labour shortage is forcing his members to reject contracts and delay investment in their companies.

“It’s very bad and it’s bad in every region and every sector,” he told Global News on Sunday.

READ MORE: Some businesses offering cash bonuses amid COVID-reopening labour shortage

Blackburn points to the over one million Canadians who were getting paid to stay home at the end of May, and the 188,000 vacant jobs in Quebec.

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“That’s why we asked the government a few months ago to stop that program,” he said.

Bernard said he believes the worker shortage and programs paying people to stay home are “parallel events that don’t related to each other.”

“In fact, no workers don’t want to work. They want to work,” he said.

The National Council of Unemployed Workers says there was a worker shortage even before the pandemic, fueled in part by the aging population. Bernard said better protecting the unemployed will not stop them from seeking work.

The campaign to improve unemployment will be seen across the province and country in the form of banners, ads and more.

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