The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop in Toronto on April 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop in Toronto on April 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

As CERB winds down, labour group asks Liberals to rethink EI

The government estimates four million people will be moved onto EI after CERB ends

The federal government is being urged to rethink Canada’s employment insurance program as millions of workers are moved off of an emergency benefit while the country’s job market is still recouping heavy losses due to COVID-19.

The government estimates four million people will be moved onto EI when the Canada Emergency Response Benefit starts winding down next month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising a parallel benefit for gig and contract workers who don’t qualify for payments through the decades-old system.

The Workers Action Centre, which advocates for low-wage workers and those in precarious employment, says many of the people it works with would get between $600 and $1,000 a month if they’re pushed onto EI next month, with the way the safety-net program is currently structured.

That would be much less than the $500 per week paid out through the CERB to workers whose incomes crashed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deena Ladd, the group’s executive director, said an overhaul of EI itself is necessary to provide adequate benefits to stabilize an economy with sectors that won’t fully open for months or may have to shut down again in response to outbreaks.

The shutdowns of March and April reduced by about three million the number of jobs in the country, and 2.5 million more workers had their hours and earnings slashed.

Statistics Canada reported last month that 3.1 million were still affected by the pandemic, including 1.4 million who weren’t at work due to COVID-19, even as the country gained 953,000 jobs in June. The unemployment rate fell to 12.3 per cent after hitting a record high of 13.7 per cent in May.

David Macdonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the labour market still has a long way to go before reaching pre-pandemic levels, especially for low-wage workers, women and young people, who have disproportionately felt the economic sting.

“Some sectors — food, retail, airlines and hotels — simply won’t be the same without a vaccine,” he said. “And in those areas, we should continue to see no recovery, or certainly nowhere near a full recovery until we see a vaccine.”

READ MORE: View Royal mayor victimized in CERB identity theft scam

The pace of jobs recovery has been expected to slow after a striking rebound in May and June. The average economist estimate from data firm Refinitiv is for a gain of 400,000 jobs in July and an unemployment rate of 11 per cent.

Brendon Bernard, an economist at job-posting-site Indeed Canada, wrote this week that the results for July will rest on three areas: accommodation, food services and culture. As of June, those accounted for 38 per cent of net job losses since February.

Another sector that may not be back until next year at the earliest is theatre, which relies on in-person audiences made up mostly of strangers.

Toronto-based actor and musician Richard Lam said having a benefit with similar help to the CERB would help workers in the sector who are self-employed or do contract work, or work multiple jobs in other affected industries to pay their bills

“Many artists in Canada and the people who support their work, they lost their Plan A and their Plan B at the same time, and they have no safety net to fall back on,” he said. “The CERB provided a real light in the darkness for the theatre industry.”

Since its launch, the CERB has paid $62.75 billion in benefits to 8.46 million people, according to the latest government figures.

The government has hinted at some of the changes likely to happen with the new benefit — including a provision for workers to keep a portion of the payments even while earning income, and access to skills-training programs — and to EI itself, such as a reduction in the hours required to qualify.

Macdonald said the government should consider raising EI’s wage replacement rate, currently set at 55 per cent up to a weekly maximum, to around the same 75 per cent mark offered by the federal wage subsidy program employers have been offered in the pandemic.

He added that a floor on benefits similar to the weekly $500 on the CERB could help those set to receive far less on EI.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Homalco First Nation said that it will intervene in the judicial review sought by aquaculture companies with regards to federal decision to phase out 19 Discovery Island fish farms by 2022. In this picture from Sept. 24, a demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver.(Quinn Bender photo)
Chief says push for fish farm judicial review a challenge to reconciliation, Aboriginal Rights

Homalco First Nation chief reacts to Mowi and Cermaq intervention in Discovery Island decision

An officer fills up back of a police car with toys. (Submitted photo)
Port Hardy RCMP give back to local community members in need

“We leave,” says Voller “but a piece of our hearts stays in each community we served in.”

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Hecht Beach cabin in ashes. (Submitted)
Beloved secret cabin lost to fire on the North Island’s west coast

The trappers cabin was shared with locals, but kept mostly secret

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. Mowi Canada has applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands by June, 2022. (Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward photo)
Major B.C. salmon farms seek court intervention in Discovery Islands ban

Fisheries minister is phasing out operations in the area by June 2022

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) is on route to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device. (Google/Screencap)
Bomb disposal unit en route to Salt Spring Island after suspicious device found in park

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Most Read