JOC ARCHIVES

January 21, 2013

Evaluating the impacts of employment insurance reform

It is too early to tell what the effects of the new changes to the employment insurance (EI) program will be on the construction industry, said the president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA).

“Time will tell. We haven’t had any experience with the new measures yet, so it’s difficult to say with any real certainty, however, the measures from our perspective may not significantly impact our industry,” said Michael Atkinson.

Following up on measures announced in the 2012 budget, the federal government has introduced new rules regarding “suitable employment.”

The new definition of suitable employment is based on six criteria.

These include: personal circumstances; working conditions; hours of work; commuting time; type of work; and hourly wage.

Leading up to last spring’s announcement, the construction industry had a few concerns, such as what suitable employment meant.

The announcement clarified these concerns, said Atkinson.

“Any concern that was out there that this would mean that workers on EI, say in an Atlantic Canada province, that they would all have to go to Alberta and work is not going to be the case,” he said.

In certain circumstances, the new regulations could require a worker to take other employment in their home jurisdiction, while on EI.

Frequent claimants, who had three or more regular and/or fishing claims and received more than 60 weeks of regular and/or fishing benefits in the past five years, are required to accept wages starting at 80 per cent of their previous hourly wage.

Seasonal workers, which include those from the construction industry, are included in this category.

After seven weeks, they would be required to accept any work they are qualified to perform starting at 70 per cent.

Long-tenured workers, those who have been mostly employed over the past 10 years, can refuse a job outside of their occupation that pays less than 90 per cent of their previous hourly wage.

After 18 weeks of EI benefits, workers will be expected to accept wages in a job similar to their normal occupation starting at 80 per cent of the previous hourly wage.

Occasional claimants must accept work pay of at least 90 per cent of their previous wages for the first six weeks, 80 per cent in the next 12 weeks and 70 per cent after 18 weeks on EI.

Atkinson said it’s important to remember that the law has not changed as even prior to these new regulations taking effect, a person had to be actively seeking work.

“Nothing has changed vis-a-vis that, other than I think these regulations make it clearer as to what those efforts should include,” he said.

“To some extent, that might help EI recipients understand better what their obligations are in those circumstances.”

The plan links the Temporary Foreign Worker Program with the EI program to connect unemployed Canadians with local jobs before employers are approved to hire temporary foreign workers.

The change includes twice a day job alerts sent to Canadians receiving EI.

These alerts will come from the government’s Job Bank website, as well as the private sector.

When the new regulations were first announced, unions were unsure how hiring halls would be treated.

Previously, hiring halls had written agreements with Service Canada that outlined the job seeking activities that were required of unionized construction workers.

“We found out the new regulations supersede the hiring hall agreements which were in place, however it hasn’t removed the hiring hall as a job seeking activity. Everything is status quo and the regulations treat us just like they would treat anyone else,” explained Christopher Smillie, the senior advisor of government relations and public affairs for the Canadian office of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

The changes took effect on Jan. 6.

“It’s too soon to tell, but certainly the measures as announced aren’t nearly as much of concern as to what was being talked about prior to the minister’s announcement,” concluded Atkinson.

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