Assessing the numerous changes to the federal government program, CEO Merle Lacert offered a measured response on behalf of the Chamber.
“There’s been one particular word that I’ve seen and has been used to describe these changes consistently, and that would be controversial,” Lacert said. “And I would have to agree … that I do believe these changes are controversial, so I’m not sure I could list them as either positive or negative. I definitely see a bit of both.”
The new guidelines stipulate changes to the definition of “suitable employment” and “reasonable job search.” Going forward, EI claimants will be placed in one of three categories.
“Long-tenured workers” have paid 30 per cent of annual EI premiums for seven of the last 10 years and collected benefits for less than 35 weeks over the previous five. “Frequent claimants” are those who have had more than three claims and collected more than 60 weeks’ worth of benefits in the previous five years. All others fall into the category of “occasional claimants.”
Lacert fears that the new changes will have a harmful effect on those who will fall into the category of frequent claimants.
But he said that workers in the seasonal or tourism sectors will likely be the most adversely affected. The long-term effect might be a decrease in the availability of labour for those industries.
“For some people working in the seasonal (sector), a good percentage of them have always tended to return to their seasonal jobs,” Lacert said. “So if they worked, let’s say, at a golf course for the summer, they would likely return each year. If all of a sudden now they can’t get benefits for the time that they’re off, they may look at alternate employment and then not look to return to the golf course.
I do believe these changes are controversial, so I’m not sure I could list them as either positive or negative. I definitely see a bit of both. - Merle Lacert
“If that golf course then looks to recruit for a short period of time, where someone who took the position would not be eligible for any benefits, it’s going to make it a very difficult-to-recruit-for position, and then we’re basically … just coming back to fighting labour shortages.”
Other changes appeared less consequential. Lacert shrugged off the one-year extension of a $1,000 hiring credit for small business, indicating that it had not had much of an effect on local enterprises.
“To some organizations they may take advantage of it, but I think for the average business, average employer, especially small business, a thousand-dollar credit like that isn’t a large incentive, especially given the administration or work that that business would have to do to work through that process.”
Similarly, Lacert minimized the impact of a new limit on premium increases to five cents each year until the EI operating account is balanced.
“For those that need it and have lost their job, a small premium saving six months prior to their job loss is of little effect to them at the time that they’re looking for replacement work,” he said.
Further changes to EI benefits are expected in the spring. Until then, the Chamber is proceeding cautiously.
“We’ll definitely be observing what comes out in the spring to see what all of the fine details are as well as … any success with some of the efficiencies that they’re looking to create, and does it create a shorter turnaround time for workers looking for work,” Lacert said.