Fight needed to regain EI

In recognition of Labour Day 2014, I want to reflect on the national conversation happening around income inequality. In the last 35 years our economy has grown by 147 per cent but the real income of the average family fell by seven per cent. Employment levels remain unacceptably low, well below what they were before the 2008 economic downturn, even though many businesses have returned to profitability.

Many people have written to me about their concerns around temporary foreign workers filling low-skilled jobs in areas with high unemployment. I was struck by how the increase in the temporary foreign worker program reflected the decrease in availability of employment insurance for precarious workers.

From the changes made by the Liberals in the 1990s that made it impossible for someone to quit a job and get EI to the decision by the Conservatives that young people must work for 900 hours before they were eligible for any benefits, there is no safety net for people who move far away from home anymore.

In 1990, 83 per cent of unemployed workers could access employment insurance. Now, only 36.6 per cent of workers can access employment insurance when they lose their jobs. That isn’t right. All workers pay into employment insurance and all workers should benefit from it.

So we shouldn’t be surprised if workers consider the risk of moving for a job and decide the risks outweigh the benefits. And remember, more than 60 per cent of workers cannot get EI, so the Conservative refrain of "paying people not to work" simply doesn’t apply. Unions drove the first policies around unemployment insurance – they recognized that having a safety net for workers who lose their jobs helps keep local economies healthy while people looked for new work.

That’s what I’m reflecting on this Labour Day – unions fought for insurance for all workers, so the transition between jobs didn’t leave families destitute. We need to fight to regain that right for all workers.

Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan