REGINA-As Alberta's unemployment rate soars to levels not seen since the recession of the early 90s, the need for fundamental reform to Canada's Employment Insurance system becomes even clearer and more urgent, says the leader of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Albertans are losing jobs at a faster pace than workers in most other provinces," says Gil McGowan. "But the system that is supposed to provide a safety net is failing us miserably. Only about 40 per cent of Alberta's unemployed are getting EI benefits - the lowest rate in the country. And even when Albertans do receive benefits, they're eligible for fewer weeks than workers in other provinces. This kind of discrimination needs to end."
McGowan and other labour federation leaders are in Regina this week to lobby the Ed Stelmach and other provincial and territorial premiers as they gather for their annual premiers meeting.
The labour leaders' campaign for EI reform took on an increased sense of urgency today as the latest official unemployment numbers were released.
Figures released this morning by Statistics Canada show that Alberta lost another 9,300 jobs in July, bringing the province's total of net-jobs lost since October 2008 to 75,600. As a result, Alberta's official unemployment rate has jumped to 7.2 - the highest it's been since 1995.
Alberta actually lost 11,900 full-time jobs in July - but this was offset somewhat by an increase in precarious part-time work. The province's unemployment rate has now nearly doubled in the past 8 months (from 3.7 per cent in October 2008 to 7.2 per cent today).
"The employment picture in Alberta is more dismal than it's been in years - and despite happy talk from politicians and business leaders, it's continuing to get worse," says McGowan. "That's why we're calling on the premiers and federal government to fix our country's broken EI system immediately. Unemployed workers need help now, not six months or a year from now."
The AFL, other provincial and territorial labour federations and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) are calling for a uniform system of EI eligibility to replace the current system that requires people to work different numbers of hours to qualify for benefits depending on which region of the country they live in. The labour movement is also calling for increases to benefit levels and to the length of time that unemployed workers can collect benefits.
"It shouldn't matter if Canadians lose their jobs in Calgary or Cape Breton - people who have lost their jobs should get the unemployment benefits they've paid for," says McGowan. "The best way to help Canadians weather this economic storm and boost the broader economy is to put money in the pockets of those who have lost their jobs. That's why we need EI reform now. The system isn't delivering on its promise - and Canadians are suffering needlessly as a result."
For more information call: Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 218-9888