France Simard, Coordinator of the Unemployment Action Movement, Lac Saint-Jean

Action in Saguenay, June 30, 2021

Workers' Forum: Has the launching of the federal election had an impact on your campaign for a just and universal employment insurance (EI) regime?

France Simard: The pandemic has shown how outdated the employment insurance regime is. There must be an in-depth reform of the system. We are participating in a campaign as a member of the MASSE, the Autonomous and Solidarity Movement of the Unemployed. Our demands are simple and clear, except that with the elections we have many questions. The federal government had set up a consultation in the summer, but we have been telling them for years that the system is not working. So why do a consultation instead of getting to work, sitting down together, working together on something concrete? They put a survey online. As for the rest, everything is stopped, everything is on the back burner in the context of the election. We have submitted briefs to the minister and to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA). Will all this be shelved and will we have to start all over with a new government?

WF: What are the demands of the MASSE campaign?

FS: Our first demand is a single eligibility threshold of 350 hours or 13 weeks. We don't want those who work part-time not to be eligible for EI. We want to include everyone in the EI system. The second demand is a benefit rate of at least 70 per cent of insurable earnings, based on the best 12 weeks of work, instead of the pre-pandemic rate of 55 per cent of earnings based on a number of weeks that can vary between 14 and 22 to determine the best weeks. The third demand is a minimum floor of 35 weeks of benefits. We know that seasonal workers find themselves in a black hole that is getting bigger and more problematic. Seasonal industries exist everywhere in Canada and governments must finally address this particular situation. It is not the workers who are seasonal but the job that is seasonal. We need a floor of 35 weeks of minimum benefits for all. With this floor we would eliminate the black hole.

We are still asking for the abolition of total exclusions. If a worker voluntarily leaves his or her job or is fired, we want the system to protect them too. Total exclusion from EI benefits for these workers is an extreme measure, and that is what is happening now.

The fifth is access to regular unemployment insurance benefits in the event of job loss for those who have received maternity and parental benefits. Women who have just given birth and who lose their job while on maternity leave and receiving benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), or immediately afterwards, are not entitled to EI. If they lose their job it is not their fault. This is discrimination against parents, mostly women but men as well because there are men who take parental leave.

It is high time to establish a just and universal employment insurance system. In my work, I pay a great deal of attention to the self-employed, or should I say the so-called self-employed. They face a lot of difficulties. On the one hand they are told that their job is insurable, based on a long questionnaire that looks at who decides their hours, what investment they have in the business, etc. Based on that, they have to pay into the system. Then, when they are out of work they are denied EI because they are self-employed. We have a lot of workers in this situation in the region.

We need to move forward and with the election coming up we are wondering if we are going to have to start all over again. We are stuck with an eternal beginning, with each change of government, or a new minister who does not know the file, etc.

We need a just and universal EI system that is there to help people, not harm them.

(Translated from the original french by Workers' Forum. Photos: Mouvement Action Chômage Lac-St-Jean)

This article was published in

 August 27, 2021 - No. 75

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