Interview: France Simard, Coordinator — Lac-Saint-Jean Unemployment Action Movement
Rally denouncing Harper government changes to the EI regime in Thetford Mines, Quebec, October 27, 2012.
The main problem continues to be access. As a result of all the reforms undertaken since the 1990s, fewer and fewer people are eligible. The Employment Insurance (EI) regime must once again become universal — just as it was at its creation in 1945 — a universal EI system for all, with a specific number of work hours required for anyone to qualify.
Over the years, the government has created economic regions, with EI eligibility based on the official unemployment rate in a given area, and different numbers of hours worked are required to qualify, depending on the economic region. This has all gone awry and is completely out of control. Once we solve that problem, we can tackle the others. Our basic demand has always been for 350 hours of work to qualify for Employment Insurance and 35 weeks of benefits, to avoid the black hole experienced by seasonal workers, along with benefits of at least 70 per cent of one’s salary, based on the best 12 weeks worked.
Demonstration in Tracadie, New Brunswick, September 15, 2018, calling for changes to EI to eliminate the black hole faced by seasonal workers.
The EI regime must be dusted off, but not behind closed doors. Workers and employers have to be spoken with, as they are the plan’s two contributors. The unions and the unemployed’s defence organizations also have to be brought in [to the discussion]. Legislation must be adopted for a just and universal employment insurance regime.
What hurts us most in our region is the black hole experienced by seasonal workers, as the lower the official unemployment rate, the more their situation worsens. There are people who have to leave the region to find work, in order to get the work hours they require to qualify for benefits. They must pay to house themselves. They have no choice. They face tremendous insecurity, not knowing whether they will find a job that will meet their conditions and needs. There are also those who work 15-20 hours per week. Precarious jobs are on the rise, which do not allow them to make ends meet. It takes them longer to accumulate the hours to qualify for EI.
Lack of access to the Employment Insurance regime is the crux of the matter.