The new Employment Insurance rules from the federal government have the Alberta Federation of Labour fuming.
The AFL says the changes will push wages down, and force workers to take less than what they're worth.
AFL President Gil McGowan says the Harper government is turning the system into the opposite of what it was designed to be.
"This is really fundamentally insulting to me as a representative for working people, because I know that the vast majority of those people on the system are there against their will, they've lost their jobs and just need some help. And that's what the system is supposed to be there for."
The changes are promising to be tough on those who have utilized it more than once.
inews880, Thurs May 24 2012
With proposed EI changes, more Canadians will be forced into the kind of bad jobs
Flaherty says don't exist, says AFL
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's shocking comment that there are "no bad jobs" in Canada demonstrates that the Harper Conservatives have willingly become the heavies for employers who want to force unemployed Canadians to accept low-wage or otherwise undesirable jobs, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"When they had a minority government, the Harper Conservatives would at least pretend they were interested in the little guy," says AFL president Gil McGowan.
"But now that they have their long-sought-after majority, the Conservatives are showing their true colours. They don't really work for all Canadians – they work for their friends in business. And if those friends say 'squeeze the little guy,' then they'll squeeze the little guy."
McGowan says that if employers are looking for workers in the service sector or in remote locations like the oil sands, then they should make those jobs more attractive to workers by offering higher wages, access to training or better travel allowances. Instead, they're turning to a compliant federal government to coerce people into taking jobs they don't want.
"Minister Flaherty and other federal Conservatives are forgetting why the Employment Insurance system was set up in the first place," says McGowan.
"It's not welfare. It's an insurance system that workers and employers pay for themselves. It's designed to provide enough income so that Canadians don't fall into poverty when they lose their jobs. And, perhaps most importantly, it's designed to give Canadians some breathing room so they can find a job that actually fits their skill set, as opposed to grabbing the first crappy job that comes along. All of this makes sense for both individuals and the broader economy."
McGowan points out that recent international studies show conclusively that more generous unemployment benefits actually enhance overall economic productivity by encouraging a better fit between workers and jobs (click here for OECD study). Canadian studies also show that the EI system is not discouraging worker mobility in Canada (click here for Mowat study).
"The Harper Conservatives are catering to the narrow self-interests of a few employers, especially employers here in Alberta," says McGowan. "But it's the wrong diagnosis and the wrong prescription. This kind of mean-spirited, low-road approach is going to hurt tens of thousands of Canadians who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs. And it's going to hurt the broader Canadian economy over the long run."
"The Conservatives like to portray themselves as competent managers of the economy," McGowan concludes. "But how is it competent to actively encourage a mismatch between jobs and skills? How is it competent to drive down wages and undermine the middle class? The truth is that the Conservatives are not competent. They're mean, they're bullies and they're not willing to let pesky facts get in the way of ideology. They're all those things, but competence and compassion are clearly not among their virtues."
A good summary of what the proposed changes to the EI system look like and what they would mean for Canadians has been prepared by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). To view the analysis, follow this link.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)
October 2009: Attacks on health care; EI failing working people in Alberta; Pension reform; Send Old Dutch a message
Wrong Way! Stelmach vows to proceed with attacks on health care ...
- In his recent televised address to the province, Premier Ed Stelmach vowed to press on with plans for major changes in health care - but he declined to explain what those changes would involve. The AFL believes the government's "reform agenda" essentially boils down to privatization, lay-offs for health care workers and more downloading of costs onto patients and their families. That's why we're supporting the Friends of Medicare's "Wrong Way" campaign aimed at stopping yet another Conservative push to privatize our public health care system. Learn how you can help keep Medicare public!
EI fails working people - especially in Alberta
- As the global recession drags on, more and more Canadians have joined the ranks of the unemployed. Unfortunately, the federal government's Employment Insurance (EI) program is failing to provide a safety net for many of those who have lost their jobs. In fact, a study released last month by the AFL shows that less than 40 per cent of unemployed workers in Alberta are eligible to receive EI benefits. Albertans have to work longer to receive fewer benefits than any other workers in the country - and the majority of Alberta's unemployed receive no EI benefits at all. For the publication ...
Alberta leading in the wrong direction on pension reform
- The recession has proven that Canada desperately needs pension reform, but a proposal for a government-sponsored supplemental pension plan being floated by the Alberta and B.C. governments may actually make a bad situation worse. That was the conclusion of an actuarial analysis commissioned by the AFL and conducted by the Vancouver-based pension firm PBI. After crunching the numbers, the consultants found that the so-called ABC plan would, in most cases, generate only a paltry amount of income for pensioners. AFL president Gil McGowan warned that, in addition to being inadequate, the ABC plan would likely distract attention from discussion on more substantial proposals for reform. Read the full text of the analysis ...
Privatization by stealth
- How would you like it if someone sold your property out from under you without even asking your opinion? That's exactly what happened when Edmonton City Council voted behind closed doors to sell large chunks of the power generation assets owned by the citizens of Edmonton through the City's utility company, Epcor. Now a majority on City Council has voted to bar the public from all future privatization decisions related to Epcor. Frustrated Edmontonians are encouraged to get involved with the new citizen's group, Our Power, which formed over the summer to demand that the public - as owners - be given the final say on all privatization debates. Our Power's latest effort is to get enough signatures on a petition to force a plebiscite on privatization during the next municipal election. Find out how you can get involved! For more information ...
Send Old Dutch a message!
Workers at the Old Dutch potato chip plant in Calgary have now been locked out by their employer for more than 200 days - and winter is fast approaching.
Please remind all your locals, members, friends and family to stop buying Old Dutch products until the company agrees to the very basic contract provisions that the workers are asking for.
Also, please head down to the picket line and let the workers know that the rest of the labour movement is still behind them! The picket line is located at 3103 - 54 Avenue SE, Calgary.
Parkland Institute's 13th Annual Fall Conference
Crisis and Opportunity: It's Time for a Progressive Economy
November 20 - 21, 2009
University of Alberta, Edmonton
Last year Alberta was in a boom and then the world economy collapsed.
What do we do now?
Information is shock resistance.
This conference is about providing the information and the ideas that can be used to promote a better future for the common good.
Did you know ...
Over the past ten months, unemployment in Alberta has more than doubled. No other province has seen a faster spike in joblessness.
October 2008 - 78,300
August 2009 - 158,000
Unemployment by region (Sept 2009 vs. Sept 2008):
Edmonton Region: 7.7% vs. 3.7%
Calgary Region: 7% vs. 3.8%
Red Deer Region: 8% vs. 4.6%
Lethbridge-Medicine Hat: 7% vs. 3%
Grande Prairie Region: 9.1% vs. 5.1%
As the ranks of the unemployed in the province continue to swell, a new report suggests Alberta's workers are hit by an employment insurance double whammy: working longer hours to qualify for a shorter compensation period.
Alberta has seen a "dramatic" increase in the number of people who have lost their jobs this year, jumping to 160,000 from about 73,000 last year, said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Monday.
"By itself it's alarming enough. What's even more disturbing to us is that only about 40 per cent of those people are eligible for benefits under the current system," said McGowan, attending a free barbecue in Calgary organized by local labour unions and associations.
"We have a very disturbing situation here in Alberta. Not only do Albertans have to work longer in order to be eligible for benefits, they also are eligible for benefits for shorter periods.
"This Labour Day, the story isn't about work, the real story is about unemployment."
Anthony Bajalo knows what it's like to look for work.
The construction labourer said after the heyday of big jobs and even bigger paycheques during boom time, work is drying up.
The 33-year-old has gone job hunting outside the city in Caroline and Sundre to find enough work to pay the bills. He recently lined up a job in Vancouver next month to work on infrastructure for the Winter Olympics.
"There are a lot of people looking for work. It's tough right now," said Bajalo.
"I've been to some places that have shut down in the middle of the jobs.
"It's tough being in a city that was booming, jobs left, right and centre. Then everything dries right up."
In Calgary on Monday, several volunteers from the Calgary and District Labour Council dished up burgers and hotdogs to a steady stream of people attending the barbecue at Olympic Plaza.
The Labour Day event is meant to give back to the community and highlight some of the worrisome activity in the economy, said Collin Anderson, interim president of the council.
"There's a definite concern that this economic downturn is being used by the corporations and companies to claw back gains that have been made over the years," he said.
More work hours, fewer benefits and changes to pensions are some of the key concerns, said Anderson.
"The workers truly have to be united now, it's the only strength we have, our solidarity and willingness to stand up for one another."
The Alberta Federation of Labour released a report this week outlining concerns about Canada's employment insurance system.
According to McGowan, workers in cities such as Montreal and Windsor, Ont., receive benefits for as long as 50 weeks, while in Alberta the maximum period is about 43 weeks.
Further, workers in Edmonton and Calgary have to work about 665 hours to qualify for EI, compared to about 560 hours in Montreal.
"All Canadians pay into the EI system at the same rate, but Albertans are having to work longer for fewer benefits than other Canadians," he said. "We think this is a perverse situation."
Alberta's robust workforce during happier times falls "further and faster" as the economy droops, said McGowan.
Employment insurance reforms could become a key national issue if a fall election materializes.
Some labour groups are calling for a national standard across the country.
Although EI is a federal responsibility, provincial leaders need to take a strong position on behalf of Alberta workers, said NDP Leader Brian Mason.
"It (EI) no longer serves the function it once did."
The federal government announced Monday it will institute new measures in the upcoming session of Parliament to help train and find new jobs for "long-tenured" employees who have been laid off.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the provisions would be aimed at those who had been consistently employed for at least seven out of the past 10 years who "are finding themselves, through no fault of their own, unemployed with limited portable skills."
The minister said the "group who have been, frankly, hardest hit by the global recession," such as those in the automotive, manufacturing and forestry sectors, would be targeted for assistance.
The new measures follow a series of initiatives launched in May that allow for some long-tenured workers to claim up to two years of EI benefits so long as they use that time to train for new work.
As of June, 816,000 Canadians were receiving EI benefits, up more than 60 per cent from when the economy started dipping in October.
Parliament will resume sitting on Sept. 14.
Calgary Herald, Page B2, Tues Sept 8 2009
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki
The Alberta Federation of Labour is slamming the federal government for shortchanging Albertans when it comes to EI benefits.
Gil McGowan says Albertans have to work more hours to qualify compared to workers in other provinces.
Workers in Calgary and Edmonton must work 665 hours before becoming eligible for EI benefits compared to 560 hours in Montreal and Toronto and 420 for Newfoundland.
A new analysis from the AFL says our province has the lowest percentage of jobless workers receiving EI with just 39 percent of workers here getting benefits, compared to over 50 percent in Quebec.
660AM, Tues Sept 8 2009
CALGARY -- Union leaders marking Labour Day with a downtown barbecue lamented the recession's toll on Alberta's workforce.
And they accused the federal government of shortchanging the province's residents by imposing stricter qualifications for employment insurance.
Workers in Calgary and Edmonton must work 665 hours before becoming eligible for EI benefits compared to 560 hours in Montreal and Toronto and 420 for Newfoundland and Labrador, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The official number of unemployed Albertans has grown from 73,000 a year ago to 160,000 today, added the union chief.
"There's no other province that's lost jobs like Alberta," said McGowan.
"Only 40% of those people are eligible for benefits."
That's due to Alberta's traditional status as an economic powerhouse, which no longer holds true, he said.
The situation amounts to a betrayal on the part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper who hails from Calgary, said McGowan.
"Stephen Harper should be ashamed of himself for not reforming a system that discriminates against his constituents," he said, adding Albertans receive a maximum of 43 weeks of EI compared to 50 weeks in Ontario and Quebec.
Barbecue organizers handed out free hamburgers and hot dogs supplied by unionists to hundreds of people -- many of them clearly needy, said McGowan.
"The story of this Labour Day is not about working, it's unemployment," he said.
Edmonton Sun, Mon Sept 7 2009
Byline: Bill Kaufmann
On this Labour Day, one of Alberta's largest union groups is adding its voice to calls to shorten wait times for employment insurance benefits in the province.
The Alberta Federation of Labor says Albertans are being short-changed because they have to work more hours to qualify for benefits when compared to workers in other provinces. AFL President Gil McGowan says laid off workers are getting hit hard by the recession, and it's up to government to make sure they can continue to pay the rent and feed their families.
Analysis by the union group finds Alberta with the lowest percentage of jobless workers receiving E-I benefits at 39 per cent, compared to 55 per cent of jobless people in Quebec collecting E-I cheques.
CHQR Newsroom, Mon Sept 7 2009
A new report suggests Canada's employment insurance program is failing jobless Albertans the most.
The Alberta Federation of Labour in partnership with the Calgary and Edmonton labour councils, say Alberta's unemployed are the worst off in Canada.
The number of jobless in our province has doubled since last year to almost 154,000 and only 39 percent of those have qualified for EI.
Experts blame the fact that Alberta has the longest qualifying hours requirement in the country. Those lucky enough to receive EI say the benefits just aren't enough.
Officials are calling for drastic changes to Alberta's employment insurance program.
Those changes include establishing a standard 360 hour eligibility period extending the benefit period to two years and increasing funding for training.
Radio 660, Sun Sept 6 2009
Byline: Mike Judson
EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour has released an analysis that supports its push to shorten waiting times for federal Employment Insurance benefits in Alberta.
The labour group says Albertans are being short-changed because they have to work more hours to qualify for benefits compared to workers in other provinces.
"The ranks of the unemployed in Alberta swell each month as layoffs continue," AFL President Gil McGowan said Sunday. "But the safety net we pay into is failing to stop their fall."
The labour group's analysis found that the number of unemployed in Alberta has doubled since October of last year to almost 154,000. The report also found that only 15 per cent of young Alberta workers are eligible of employment insurance when they lose their job.
The analysis calls for drastic changes to the employment insurance program, including a standard 360-hour eligibility period, elimination of the two-week waiting period and extending the benefit period to two years.
"Laid-off workers are getting hit hard by the recession," said McGowan. "It is the responsibility of the government to make sure they can continue to pay the rent and feed their families."
The report found most of the lost jobs have been full-time positions, while the number of people being forced to take part-time work in Alberta has increased significantly since last fall.
The analysis also found Alberta with the lowest percentage of jobless workers receiving unemployment benefits at 39 per cent, compared to 55 percentage of Quebec's jobless getting E-I benefits.
"But even workers who are lucky to get EI benefits find it simply isn't enough," said Tom Olenuk, President of the Edmonton and District Labour Council. "Rates are too low and for too many, their benefits get cut off too quickly."
The AFL said the federal government uses a complicated formula to set E-I criteria in each region.
In Alberta, the rules reflect the boom times that the province had been experiencing up to about a year ago - not the spike in employment that occurred after markets crashed last fall and energy prices began to plummet.
"The government's arbitrary rate setting did not take into account Alberta's resource-driven economy," says the nine-page report.
Alberta's labour federation is also calling for increased funding for training programs for the jobless.
Canadian Press, Sun Sept 6 2009
Byline: Jim Macdonald
The Alberta Federation of Labour, in partnership with the Calgary and Edmonton Labour Councils, has released a new analysis (EI: It Should Be There When You Need It!) that shows that Canada's Employment Insurance (EI) program is failing unemployed workers at the very time they need it the most.
"The ranks of the unemployed in Alberta swell each month as layoffs continue," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "But the safety net we pay into is failing to stop their fall."
"The EI program is not doing what it is supposed to do - offer income protection and training support for unemployed workers. And its failure is worst here in Alberta."
Only 39% of unemployed in Alberta receive EI benefits. Alberta workers are the least likely in the country to be eligible for EI when they lose their job. This is due, in large part, to the fact that Alberta has the longest qualifying-hours requirement in the country.
"But even workers who are lucky to get EI benefits find it simply isn't enough," says Tom Olenuk, President of the Edmonton and District Labour Council. "Rates are too low and for too many, their benefits get cut off too quickly."
"We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 50 years, and Prime Minister Harper has done nothing to make EI more accessible to Canadians," says Collin Anderson of the Calgary and District Labour Council.
Highlights of the analysis include:
- The number of unemployed in Alberta has doubled since October 2008, to almost 154,000;
- Only 15% of young workers are eligible for EI when they lose their job;
- Albertans only receive $1,591 a month in EI benefits on average; and
- Albertans have to work the longest number of hours to be eligible for the shortest periods of coverage in Canada.
The analysis calls for drastic changes to the EI program to make it more responsive to unemployed Albertans. Changes recommended include: establishing a standard 360-hour eligibility period; elimination of the two-week waiting period; extending the benefit period to two years; and increasing funding for training.
"Laid-off workers are getting hit hard by the recession. It is the responsibility of the government to make sure they can continue to pay the rent and feed their families. And the failure to do so rests firmly at the feet of the Harper government," concludes McGowan.
Note: Gil McGowan (cell 780-218-9888) and Collin Anderson (403-819-6677) will be available for comment on the report on Monday, September 7th at the Calgary and District Labour Council Labour Day Barbeque (Calgary Olympic Plaza, 228 - 8 Avenue SE, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.) Tom Olenuk (780-940-6797) will be available for comment on September 7th at the Edmonton and District Labour Council Barbeque (Giovanni Caboto Park, 95 Street and 109 Avenue, Edmonton, 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.).
For more information call: Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 218-9888