CAW President Voices Frustration at Lack of Action on EI Programs

October 12, 2010, 1:55 PM EST

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CAW President Ken Lewenza called today's fiscal update by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty a missed opportunity to make a meaningful extension to Employment Insurance measures. Lewenza also expressed concern at Minister Flaherty's assertion that the country will emerge from the recession stronger than when it entered, calling the statement "untrue."

"Our government continues to be naively optimistic about the pace of recovery, which is clearly having a negative impact on important policy decisions," warned Lewenza.

Lewenza also said that trade deals negotiated by the federal government to date have only succeeded in putting the country in more of a vulnerable economic situation. "No better example exists of irresponsible trade negotiations than the ongoing talks with the EU, a deal which could severely curtail federal, provincial and municipal government's authority to make decisions on how and where to spend public funds," said Lewenza of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Lewenza said that Canadians are still looking for strong economic leadership by the government and urged an extension to EI pilot projects.

 "We are very disappointed that the Minister did not use this opportunity to clear the air on the extension of EI pilot projects, promising only more consultations," said Lewenza.

"With EI pilot projects falling off the table one after the other, the failure to act means more stress and uncertainty for unemployed Canadians. When the Minister acknowledges the continuing "downside risks" to the economy and the "need to make sure the recovery gains traction," it should only follow that the EI pilot projects need to be continued," said Lewenza. 

Lewenza noted that earlier this month, the U.S. Commerce Department credited extended UI benefits for the consumer spending gains that are providing at least some good news there. "Money in the pockets of those who've lost their jobs means money in our communities," Lewenza said. 

Among the pilot projects that should be immediately extended:

# The "Extended EI Benefits" project provided claimants in high unemployment regions with an additional five weeks of benefits beginning in 2004.  It was replaced with a temporary legislative change that gave all Canadians an extra five weeks, ending for new claimants after September 11. The first group to run out of benefits will be those who only qualify for 14 or 15 weeks. They'll run out of benefits right after Christmas.

# The "Best 14 Weeks" project has also been around for five years although it applies only to half of the EI regions. The highest paid 14 weeks in the last year are used to set claimants' EI benefit rate so that they are not penalized for accepting irregular work. It should be extended and apply to all regions.
# The "Working While on Claim" project has been around for five years now. It works and it should be incorporated into the EI Act without a lot of fanfare. In the most recent EI Monitoring and Assessment Report, more than half of claimants covered by this pilot project (65 per cent) used the provision. It allows them to accept work and earn up to 40 per cent of their EI rate without a reduction in benefits.

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