NB Federation of Labour: scrap EI changes

Written by Asaf Rashid on March 12, 2014

Ei soup-1

Patrick Colford, president of the NB Federation of Labour, (centre), at an action calling for the scrapping of the EI changes in November 2013 in Fredericton. Photo by Asaf Rashid.

Fredericton – The New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL) is demanding that the federal government scrap its 2012 and 2013 Employment Insurance (EI) reforms, which have pushed many workers down wage ladders, and instead introduce improvements which will benefit unemployed workers and the economy of New Brunswick.

On March 6, NBFL Vice President Daniel Legere was in Ottawa with members of other labour and community organizations across the country. They met with opposition Members of Parliament and requested they bring the demands for EI changes to the House of Commons. The group met with various NDP and Liberal MPs.

The NB Media Co-op spoke to NBFL President Patrick Colford about the demands to scrap the EI changes.

How have people been impacted since the federal government’s EI reforms?

The NBFL is very concerned by the elimination of the pilot project that gave EI claimants living in regions of high unemployment, five extra weeks of benefits. Two regions in New Brunswick benefited from this pilot project: Restigouche-Albert and Madawaska-Charlotte.

The period between the end of EI benefits and the beginning of work, commonly called the “black hole” or “gap,” is a reality for many workers in seasonal industries. In 2011/12, there were 87,120 claimants that benefited from the pilot project nationally, which demonstrates a real need to maintain the pilot project.

Another pilot project that was eliminated was the “best 14 weeks” where benefits were calculated based on the highest 14 weeks of earnings. It should be noted that those who benefited from this pilot project received a weekly rate that was on average $47 higher than it would have been had the pilot project not been in place. This represents a significant amount of money for workers, their families and their communities.

What people have been particularly affected?

Research by the Canadian Labour Congress showed that the major cuts particularly affected women: only 32% of unemployed women qualified for regular EI benefits compared to 40% of men. Women are more likely to be employed in part-time and/or temporary jobs and periods of time women spend away from work caring for children limit their ability to accumulate enough hours to qualify for benefits.

Part-time work accounts for a larger share of women’s employment (22.1%) in New Brunswick than men’s (9.4%). No gender-based analysis, as required by the Treasury Board of Canada and Status of Women Canada, was conducted by the Federal government prior to tabling Bill C-38. The NBFL fears that women will further be penalized by the new changes.

Youth in New Brunswick have a much higher unemployment rate (17.5%) than the working age population in the province, the proportion working part-time (40.2%) is higher than other groups. Given those figures, will the recent changes to EI impact that age group more? If they leave the province, build a family and make a life elsewhere, it is fair to say they will not come back to New Brunswick and the province would lose, once again, a valuable population.

What changes to the EI system are being called for by the NBFL and allies?

We are calling for the scrapping of any and all changes that were included in Bill C-38. Bill C-38 was tabled in the House of Commons on April 26, 2012. This mega ominous Budget Bill was 452 pages long and modified no less than 70 pieces of legislation. It received royal assent on June 29, 2012. The unprecedented speed to which such a complex piece of legislation came into law is a grave concern for our members. It is our belief that by limiting time allocation for debate in the House and committee consultations, the Federal government made a mockery of our democratic process, not to mention the lack of accountability, transparency and respect for the population it serves.

The NBFL has said that it is determined to make improved access to EI a ballot box issue, demanding opposition parties speak out in favour of such improvements. How will pressure be applied? Are there actions from Labour and other concerned organizations that can be expected to back up the demands?

Since the EI reform was announced, New Brunswickers from all walks of life, labour, social groups, First Nations and employers have come together and signed petitions, held numerous rallies and sent Conservative MPs postcards to tell Harper one simple message: scrap the changes. They understand that these changes are another attack by the Harper government on workers, their families and their communities and will create a pool of cheap labour that will impact the wages of all Canadians. We will continue with these actions and bring about public knowledge of the issue and the impact on workers in New Brunswick. Once we get closer to the elections, plans are being made to “step up” our pressure.

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