Worsening Economic Conditions call for Emergency EI Measures, CAW President Says

April 9, 2009, 1:45 PM EST

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Massive job losses totaling 61,300 in the month of March and a rise in the national unemployment rate to 8 per cent must prompt emergency action from the federal government to help Canadians struggling with job loss and inadequate access to unemployment insurance, CAW President Ken Lewenza said following the release of recent labour market figures by Statistics Canada earlier today.

The CAW has called on the government to immediately expand EI benefit coverage for up to an additional year so long as the national unemployment rate exceeds 6.5 per cent.  Lewenza said this emergency extension in coverage should be funded by the federal government directly rather than through existing unemployment insurance (EI) funds, similar to action taken by the federal government in the 1980s. 

"The economic conditions in this country are worsening each month as Canadians are being thrown out of work at a rate not seen in over 20 years and the extra five weeks of EI coverage promised by the Harper government just doesn't cut it," Lewenza said. "It infuriates me to hear Finance Minister Jim Flaherty boast about the strength of Canada's EI system, oblivious to the fact that drastic cutbacks made to the system in past years have put the livelihoods of so many working Canadians and their families in jeopardy. It's outrageous."

The union has also called on the government to ease restrictions on EI qualifying hours so that more workers can access the system and to backstop unpaid severance and other separation monies owed to workers when employers go bankrupt or fail to pay.

With the exception of Ottawa and Kingston, all major urban centres in Ontario have unemployment in excess of 7 per cent, including Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Oshawa, St.Catharines/Niagara, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Windsor. 

Windsor has the highest urban unemployment rate in Canada at a stunning 13.7 per cent, while dramatic unemployment increases were recorded for the cities of Vancouver and Montreal. Unemployment in Vancouver jumped from 5.7 per cent in February to 7.1 per cent in March and in Montreal the rate jumped from 8.2 per cent to 9.3 per cent.  

The EI system uses regional unemployment rates on a 3 month rolling average (January through March) to determine EI eligibility and duration of benefits, an unfair practice that is also having an adverse effect on laid-off workers, Lewenza said.

"If the most current March numbers were used instead, workers laid off in Montreal and Vancouver during April would qualify for benefits with 35 fewer insured hours and be entitled to two additional weeks of EI benefits," said Lewenza. "There has never been a more important time for the government to establish a uniform entry requirement of 360 hours for EI benefits right across the country, regardless of the city you happen to live in."

Over half of the job loss recorded in March (34,200) was comprised of losses in the struggling manufacturing sector, particularly the auto and parts sector as well as in metal and wood processing. Among the hardest hit groups were young workers between the ages of 15 and 24, who suffered 18,600 job losses last month. The youth unemployment rate in Canada has shot to 14.8 per cent, the highest in the country. 

Today, nearly one and a half million Canadians are categorized as unemployed, a figure that doesn't account for workers who have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits and have stopped searching for work. 


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