Harper government introduces new employment insurance rules

Labour minister Diane Finlay announced an overhaul of the employment insurance system, Thursday morning.

The Globe and Mail is reporting that the new rules will mean less generous terms for frequent users of EI, while giving Canadians who rarely use the program more leeway to look for jobs in their field.

Essentially, the Tories have created three new tiers of job hunters that will mostly affect repeat users of the program:

Tier 1: Long-tenured workers

Defined as someone who received 35 or fewer weeks of regular or fishing EI over the last five years, long-tenured workers will be allowed to restrict their job hunt to positions that pay 90 per cent of their previous earnings and are in the same occupation.

After 18 weeks, however, they will be expected to accept jobs that pay 80 per cent of their previous salary in the same field.

Tier 2: : Occasional

Those out of work that fall between the definitions of long-tenured and frequent, can spend 18 weeks looking for a job in their "similar" occupation at 80 per cent of previous pay.

After 18 weeks, those recipients will be expected to take any work that pays at at least 70 per cent of earnings.

The Globe notes 58 percent of claimants are occasional claimants.

Tier 3: : Frequent

Frequent EI users will be defined as someone who has made three or more regular or fishing claims and collected 60 or more weeks of benefits in the past five years.

This category currently makes up 17 per cent of all EI claimants - mainly in Atlantic Canada.

According to the Globe, these recipients will only have six weeks to find a job in a "similar occupation" at at least 80 per cent of pay.

Those looking for work - in all tiers - must be willing to work at a job that is within a one hour commute from their home but "could be longer in communities where longer commuting times are the norm."

The government's announcement comes after weeks of intense speculation about the future of Canada's EI system, since the Tories' omnibus budget bill removed provisions of the EI Act that allowed recipients to turn down an available job if it's not in the claimant's usual occupation or at a lower rate of pay.

The anxiety was further fueled by finance minister Jim Flaherty's 'no bad jobs' comment last week.

"I was brought up in a certain way. There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job," he told reporters. "I drove a taxi, I refereed hockey. You do what you have to do to make a living."

The new rules are expected to be in place early next year.