August 27, 2021 -
Governments Which Do Not Treat
Unemployed Workers with
Dignity and Respect
Livelihood for All Unemployed Workers!
• Line Sirois,
Coordinator of Unemployment Action Movement, Côte-Nord
Simard, Coordinator of the Unemployment Action Movement, Lac Saint-Jean
Condemn Governments Which Do Not Treat
Unemployed Workers with Dignity and Respect
For the period of the federal election,
workers, organizations in defence of the unemployed and unions in
Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are stepping up the
fight for a pro-social reform of the Employment Insurance (EI) regime.
They formed a coalition to organize actions during the federal election
and after in defence of the rights of the unemployed.
Among other things, the
pandemic has laid bare
of more than three decades of the anti-social offensive carried
neo-liberal governments which has wrecked the prior already
Employment Insurance regime. Over these years, successive
integrated the fund with general revenues where they are made
available for pay-the-rich
schemes. They have lowered
the amount of benefits received and reduced the eligibility of
workers for EI
benefits to such an extent that today only about 40 per cent of
can access EI. It has deliberately been made extremely difficult,
impossible, for part-time, precarious, seasonal, so called
migrant workers, and many others to access EI. At the same time,
paid and the duration of benefits have been reduced through all
schemes, making the benefits insufficient to enable workers on EI
to live a
life in dignity. Fending for oneself has become the norm of EI
rights and harming them
The COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on the destruction of EI and
its inability to deal with the massive loss of jobs that occurred
during the peak of the crisis in a manner that could sustain a proper
standard of living for the unemployed. Of the emergency measures put in
place, many were actually devised to sustain and increase the
profits of private companies during the crisis. In regard to the EI
regime, eligibility criteria were substantially relaxed, with the
threshold of hours of work needed to be eligible lowered and the
duration of the benefit period extended. The number of people receiving
EI benefits increased.
Those special EI measures are coming to an end
at the end of
September. Public relations double-talk by
government, media and spokespersons of the monopolies,
according to which we must get back to "normal,"
is accompanied with warnings that keeping "generous social
programs" in place will jeopardize "the post-pandemic recovery,"
create more "disincentives for recipients to go to work" and
increase the "shortage of labour." It is cruelly anti-people. It
increasingly the anxiety felt by many who can exercise no control over their lives.
Workers reject this anti-worker and anti-social propaganda with
utter contempt. Going back to "normal" and "business as usual" is a
return to the nightmare of wrecked social programs and the inability of
society to face crises such as the pandemic and jobs crisis which is
the result of the restructuring of the economy and treatment of workers
as disposable. Workers are defending the rights that belong to them as
producers of the wealth of society on which they have a claim, and as
human beings who are entitled to a dignified life.
Workers are gearing up to make sure the so-called post-pandemic
recovery is not used to block a human-centred alternative that affirms
the rights and dignity of all. They are fighting to open a path to a
new direction for the economy and for all the affairs of society. Going
back to "business as usual" is the last thing Canadians want and the
last thing society can afford.
All Out To Defend the Rights and Dignity of
All Unemployed Workers!
Workers' Forum: What
is the situation for seasonal workers now with regard to access to
Representatives of five member groups of the interprovincial coalition at the EI office in Forestville, June 30, 2021.
Sirois: At the moment, seasonal workers are in a
difficult situation. The government is changing the emergency measures
which means that, starting at the end of September, to be eligible for
EI [Employment Insurance] you have to have 420 hours of work. We are happy that everyone will
be equal in terms of the hours required to be eligible.
However, we will go back to the way it was before, that is to say that
the number of weeks of benefits you receive depends on the unemployment
rate in effect in each region. The North Shore is included in an EI
region in which there are areas that do not have a seasonal industry,
which means that the official unemployment rate in the region as
a whole is much lower than the actual rate on the North Shore. In our
EI region the unemployment rate is currently below six per cent. This
means that a worker in the seasonal industry, as of the end of
September, will receive between 14 and 19 weeks of benefits instead of
the current 50 weeks. If the official unemployment rate on the North
Shore is very low, it is not because employment has picked up and jobs
have been created, but because of the aging of the population which
creates artificially low unemployment rates. The labour force between
16 and 64 years old living on the North Shore keeps decreasing.
The emergency measure which established the requirement of 420
of work to qualify for 50 weeks of benefits was good for workers in the
conditions of the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic is not behind us. The
pandemic is still with us. International tourism is not here. The
Europeans who usually come here as tourists are not here. We
can already see that many businesses are going to have to close their
People are wondering what to do, because the
black hole will come
back, the period when people are not entitled to employment insurance.
It is very stressful. I get a lot of phone calls from people who don't
know what will happen to them. That's really the problem for us. That's
the point we want to hit.
What are your demands in these conditions?
What we are asking for is clear, and we are not
just asking for this for seasonal workers. We want an end to the claim
that we would have to deny benefits to one in order to give to another.
We are asking for 420 hours and 35 weeks of benefits for everyone, that
everyone be equal. We don't want to hear that such and
such an unemployed person who claims benefits every year is profiting
from the system. That is false.
We want everyone to
be treated equally and to receive employment
insurance whether they are seasonal workers, part-time workers or any
other category of workers.
We are currently
building a large interprovincial coalition of
unemployed groups and unions in Eastern Canada. At the moment, the
interprovincial coalition brings together groups of unemployed workers
from the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, the North Shore, the Lower St. Lawrence,
Gaspésie, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as well as
numerous union representatives from the Confederation of National Trade
Unions (CSN) and the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ). We held a joint
action on June 30, a simple action but one that got a lot of attention.
Each committee, regardless of where they were, made a cake for Canada
Day and distributed slices of cake in front of the
Service Canada offices. They made it clear that no one was in the mood
to celebrate and used the action to raise awareness of the current
problems with employment insurance.
This is what we
are going to work on during the election campaign,
not just in Quebec but with others, to make our demands known. We want
the government of Canada to reform employment insurance now. For us,
the time for discussion and consultation is over, the time is for
action. We will hold other mobilization actions in the coming
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?
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?
What are the demands of the MASSE campaign?
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
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
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
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