Temporary changes to the employment insurance program made during the pandemic are set to expire soon, jeopardizing access to jobless benefits.
Under the temporary measures, workers qualify for EI based on a national requirement of having 420 insurable employment hours, whereas workers would normally need between 420 and 700 hours depending on the regional unemployment rate. Additionally, under the temporary measures, monies paid on separation from a job, such as severance, are not deducted from benefits.
However, on Sept. 25 the program will revert to its original framework.
The expiration comes as the federal government works on drafting changes to EI as part of its pledge to modernize the program. Experts and interested parties have raised a range of concerns about the program, including that too few people can access jobless benefits.
Tara Beauport, press secretary to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, confirmed in an email the temporary measures will not be extended.
“However, our government recognizes that the current EI system needs to be more flexible, fairer and responsive to the needs of workers today. That’s exactly why we’ve undertaken the monumental task — for the first time in a generation — of modernizing it, and that work is well underway,” Beauport said.
Employment and Social Development Canada conducted a survey last year as part of its efforts to engage the public on EI reform. According to results published on the department’s website, 62% of respondents agreed that eligibility requirements should be the same across the country. In addition, 60% agreed that the temporary changes related to severance pay should be made permanent.
Findings from the consultations with experts and stakeholders indicate labour groups favour instituting a lower eligibility threshold, with many suggesting 360 or 420 hours. Employers, on the other hand, want to see a higher threshold, raising concerns about the effect of the threshold on premiums and the labour supply.
Brendon Bernard, a senior economist with hiring website Indeed, says the number of EI recipients is likely to drop following the change.
“The tightening of those requirements is likely to cut some people’s access off from the EI, especially people who might not have worked a full year, and especially if they were working part-time,” Bernard said.