Labour has long complained that Ottawa is diverting billions in premiums collected from ordinary workers
Ottawa (27 May 2007) - The Supreme Court of Canada will hear a labour movement complaint that the federal government is abusing the multi-million-dollar Employment Insurance (EI) program.
The country's top court has agreed to hear arguments from trade unions about how the federal government collects and uses employment insurance surpluses.
The consent by the court to look at the matter was announced on May 24. As is customary, the court gave no reasons for its decision and it is not known how long it will take before the matter is addressed.
The Confederation of National Trade Unions (CNTU) in Quebec is arguing that federal governments dating back years have abused EI by diverting surplus revenues from the program for purposes other than those intended by Parliament when the program was established.
Since 1996, it is estimated that Ottawa has collected $54 billion in employment insurance premiums while placing major restrictions on which workers are entitled to collect benefits.
To date, two lower courts in Quebec, the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal, have turned down arguments by the unions.
Closely watched challenge
The case is being closely watched across the country. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has appealed to both Liberal and Conservative governments to stop the practice of raiding EI surpluses to pay for unrelated programs and expenses.
NDP EI critic Yvon Godin, (Acadie-Bathurst) applauded the top court's decision to hear the matter at last.
“It is workers, not the federal government who contribute to this program, yet it's the government that is using the fund. They are pick-pocketing working families. That is theft,” argues Godin.
“It is unacceptable that the EI program should have a surplus of $51 billion when only 33% of women and 44% of men who pay Employment Insurance premiums are able to collect benefits when they lose their jobs. That is why we have to stand up and defend these workers. They work hard for their money and it is theirs,” Godin adds.