Workers’ group fighting government over EI

The Unemployed Workers Council is trying to heighten public awareness on what it claims is the federal Liberal government’s discrimination against older workers, women, people of colour, immigrants, people on welfare, and those with disabilities through Human Resources Development Canada.
It’s also trying to rally people who feel they have been discriminated against to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The council is arguing the new Employment Insurance Act encourages stereotyping “abusers” and withholding services in order to create a pool of savings to be applied to the federal deficit.
And it’s calling on Ottawa to pump the employment insurance surplus–estimated to be $19 billion at the end of this fiscal year–back into training programs and EI payments rather than into the deficit.
Former HRDC employee Mike Clancy, who was in town Monday with UWC board member Richard Hudon as part of a 27-city tour across Ontario, said he started advising HRDC that the effects of the act were discriminatory.
But in March, 1997, he said he was suspended after being told he was not to talk about internal processes with the public, then ended up resigning from his position.
“As far as I can see, the thing that I was being told not to do was exactly what I was supposed to do,” Clancy said Monday.
While he’s filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Clancy noted it couldn’t pursue the issue because he wasn’t the “victim.”
The victims themselves would have to file the complaints, he said.
The UWC, set up in 1992 by the Toronto Labour and Building Trades Councils with its founding meeting in 1996, said changes to the act two years ago force HRDC to give service to those most likely to succeed rather than those who need re-training to escape their joblessness and poverty.
The managers’ performance according to each office’s business plan, Clancy said, was based on savings achieved and targeted surpluses. And while fewer people can claim from it, Clancy noted all workers have to contribute.
“It becomes like a cash cow,” charged Hudon, arguing the Liberals were running away with the premiums and pumping them into the deficit rather than putting them back into services for unemployed workers.
But local MP Robert Nault, parliamentary assistant to Human Resources Development minister Pierre Pettigrew, countered that the group’s accusations about discrimination were “totally off the mark.”
Nault said disabled persons were only in the EI system if they were attached to the labour force in the past three years.
He also felt this province-wide tour was merely a political move (Clancy ran as the NDP candidate in Kenora in the last provincial election but lost to Liberal incumbent Frank Miclash) to attack the Liberals.
Nault did confirm the EI surplus–which is about $15 billion now and will be an estimated $19 billion by the end of this fiscal year–does go into general revenue, as was recommended by the auditor general in 1986.
“We keep a separate accounting of the EI account. Quite frankly, it’s not a surprise,” he said of the criticism of the surplus. “Everybody talks about the surplus.”
But he noted the Employment Insurance Commission auditor recommended a $10-$15 billion surplus to deal with downturns in employment. That way, there would be a sufficient amount to deal with a downturn in employment so the workforce wouldn’t be hit by higher premiums when times were tough.
Nault argued the EI system, which was running a $6-billion deficit in 1993, was built to be more generous to the working poor, and that the Chrétien government was being proactive to help get people back into the workforce.
By the year 2000, the government is targeting $3 billion in training dollars through the EI system.
And last year, Nault noted Ottawa cut premiums by 20 cents, putting $1.7 billion back in the hands of employers and employees. While premiums were earmarked to be $3.30 for every $100 income, he said that had dropped to $2.60 since the Liberals took office.
But Nault added one area that had been tightened was with youth, where the government made it purposefully difficult for young people to come into the system.
That way, he noted, it was an incentive for them to stay in school, and not start the cycle of taking seasonal work and then collecting EI during the off season.