EI improvements needed to protect low-wage workers

According to the report, only 28% of workers earning $15/hour or less qualify for EI.

Ottawa (4 July 2019) — A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) looks at how current rules for Employment Insurance (EI) mean the vast majority of low-wage workers can’t get benefits when they are unemployed. The report - Towards an Inclusive Economy, Syncing EI to the Reality of Low-wage Work - also makes recommendations for how EI can be improved to better protect low-wage workers.

Only 28% of low-wage workers eligible for EI

Cuts to EI by successive federal governments have meant that fewer and fewer workers are eligible for benefits. In 2017, only 42% of workers qualified for EI. But for low-wage workers the situation is much worse. According to the report, only 28% of workers earning $15/hour or less qualify for EI.

The report also made it clear that, when 59% of low-wage workers were women, women were disproportionately affected. This extended to maternity and parental benefits where far fewer low-wage workers qualified.

Recent improvements help those already eligible for EI

While the current federal government has reversed some cuts since being elected in 2015, the report states that most of the benefit went to those who were already eligible for EI. There was little to help make it easier for low-wage workers to qualify for EI.

As well, even for low-wage workers who did qualify for EI, many of the changes do little to help them. While new parents can extend the time they take for maternity or parental leave, the amount they receive each week will be reduced from 55% of their average weekly incomes to 33%. For most people whose average weekly incomes are already low that isn’t an option.

Recommendations would provide low-wage workers with more security

The report recommends a number of changes to enable more low-wage workers to access EI. These include reducing the hours required to qualify for EI to 420 allowing people who leave jobs voluntarily to qualify. It is also proposed that there be an earnings based requirement – similar to industries like fisheries – for low-wage workers.

Many of these are changes that the labour movement has been demanding for years.

Larger problem is responding to precarious work

The fact 72% of low-wage workers are not eligible for EI is part of the larger problem of precarious work. As a policy paper adopted at the 2019 NUPGE convention outlined, the number of workers in precarious employment is increasing. As the paper makes clear, major changes to the social safety net are needed to properly protect people in precarious employment. For the labour movement, the challenge is finding new ways to reach and organize workers so we can do what we have done for decades – give workers the power to turn precarious work into good jobs.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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