Canada’s EI benefits among worst in OECD countries | National Union of Public and General Employees

Canada’s EI benefits among worst in OECD countries

Canada ranks almost dead last among OECD countries in terms of access, benefit duration and income replacement levels for Employment Insurance, according to a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Ottawa (14 July 2009) - Employment Insurance (EI) benefits in Canada are well below the OECD average, says a new study released recently by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The study, by economist Lars Osberg, finds that in terms of access, benefit duration and income replacement levels, EI in Canada falls far below most other OECD countries and below the levels of Canadian unemployment insurance in past recessions.

“In this global recession, the weakness of Canada’s EI system has become a glaring federal policy omission,” says Osberg. “Now that they need a social safety net, many Canadians are discovering they do not have much of one.”

James Clancy, NUPGE national president, recently urged the federal government to overhaul Canada's EI program in order to help vulnerable families and stimulate the economy. 

“Canadians are hurting from the current recession and yet our EI system leaves too many unemployed workers out in the cold,” said Clancy. “We need serious reforms that improve access to the EI program and enhance benefits in order to help families who are reeling from this economic crisis and to put money in the hands of people who are going to spend it at local businesses in their community."

According to the CCPA study, the inadequacies of EI — combined with weakened provincial social assistance programs — have produced a massive risk shift, the burden of which is being borne by Canadian families who have fallen victim to the global recession.

“Since low-wage individuals are especially likely to experience unemployment, the downloading of recessionary risk is having its biggest impacts on disadvantaged Canadians,” Osberg says. “These impacts will only increase as EI benefits are exhausted in the coming months.”

The study warns that benefits for current EI recipients will run out sometime before February 2010, when the OECD estimates that employment will be 10.5% — substantially higher than it is now.

The study recommends reforms to EI including the easing of entrance requirements and the creation of a ‘second tier’ of unemployment benefits to address the problems of those who are unemployed for long durations.

“The question for Canada’s political economy is — if the recession drags on — what happens if EI reforms are not forthcoming?” concludes Osberg.

More information:

Canada’s Declining Social Safety Net: The Case for EI Reform was released June 30, 2009 and it is available on the CCPA website at or at this link Canada’s Declining Social Safety Net - PDF File


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE