Temporary changes to the Employment Insurance program during the pandemic are set to expire soon, jeopardizing access to unemployment benefits for auto workers in Windsor, Ont., who expect to be out of work in fall,” said a Unifor leader.
Rob Kennedy, a worker at Syncreon Automotive and vice-president of Unifor Local 195, said the Windsor plant will close Oct. 30 after automaker Stellantis terminated its contract with Syncreon.
Since the start of the pandemic, Kennedy said, he and others at the plant have relied heavily on EI due to repeated shutdowns due to chip shortages and supply chain issues. supply.
Now, with nearly 300 workers awaiting permanent layoff, Kennedy says many may not qualify for EI due to the expiry of measures that made it easier to access benefits. “Because our hours are getting shorter and we’re not working as much, when the factory closes, many of us won’t have enough hours to sustain ourselves.”
Under the temporary measures, workers are eligible for EI based on a national requirement to have 420 hours of insurable work, while workers would normally need 420 to 700 hours depending on the unemployment rate regional. In addition, under the temporary measures, amounts paid upon termination of employment, such as severance pay, are not deducted from benefits.
However, on September 25, the program will return to its original setting.
Brendon Bernard, senior economist at hiring website Indeed, says the number of EI recipients is expected to drop as a result of the change.
“The tightening of these requirements is likely to cut off some people’s access to EI, particularly people who may not have worked a full year, and especially if they were working part-time,” Bernard said.
Kennedy said the change is also concerning for Syncreon workers because they “will have to exhaust all of their severance packages. To me, that’s wrong.”
The expiry of these measures comes as the federal government works to draft changes to Employment Insurance as part of its commitment to modernize the program. Experts and interested parties have raised a range of concerns about the program, including that too few people can access unemployment benefits.
Tara Beauport, press secretary to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, confirmed in an email that the temporary measures will not be extended.
“However, our government recognizes that the current employment insurance system must be more flexible, fairer and more adapted to the needs of today’s workers. This is exactly why we have undertaken the monumental task — for the first time in a generation — to modernize and work is well underway,” said Beauport.
Employment and Social Development Canada conducted a survey last year as part of its efforts to engage the public in EI reform. According to results published on the department’s website, 62% of respondents agreed that eligibility criteria should be the same across the country. Additionally, 60 percent agreed that temporary changes related to severance pay should be made permanent.
The results of consultations with experts and stakeholders indicate that labor groups are in favor of establishing a lower eligibility threshold, with several suggesting 360 or 420 hours. Employers, meanwhile, want to see a higher threshold, raising concerns about the effect of the threshold on premiums and labor supply.
In Windsor, Kennedy says the end of the temporary measures will have a “devastating” effect on workers.
“If the Liberal government really, really believes that it can help and modernize employment insurance, then please, it must listen, it must stop immediately and not let the temporary measures expire.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 23, 2022.
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