Canadians using employment insurance feel the pinch of new, stricter rules

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Starting today, new rules take effect that could cut off some Canadians from employment insurance benefits.

If you're starting 2013 newly jobless, new Employment Insurance (EI) rules mean you'll have to be more diligent in documenting your efforts to find work and maybe settle for something less than the ideal job.

As of Jan. 5, people drawing EI benefits will be expected to put together career resumes, sign up at job banks, go to job fairs and apply for suitable jobs that are available, The Canadian Press reports.

The new rules use several factors to define a suitable job, including distance from home, family obligations, health and physical capability, as well as wages, CP says.

[ Related: New EI changes now in effect ]

The changes, announced last spring, divides EI claimants into three groups, CBC News noted:

— Those who've held down jobs and maxed out EI contributions in seven of the last 10 years and who've collected less than 35 weeks of benefits over the last five years;

— Frequent claimants who've made three or more claims totalling more than 60 weeks over the previous five years, and

— A catch-all category of occasional claimants.

The Conservative government launched the reforms after reports of a growing backlog of claims in the wake of the 2008 recession.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said last May changing the definitions of "suitable work" and "reasonable job search" would "ensure impartiality and strengthen requirements for Canadians receiving EI benefits to actively look for and accept all suitable work," CBC News reported at the time.

CP noted the new rules define suitable jobs as those that are similar to what a person used to do. If, after a certain period, no such job is found, EI claimants will be required to take any position they're qualified for and accept as much as 30 per cent lower wages.

Not surprisingly, the changes have run into flak. Premiers in the Atlantic provinces, where EI is a crucial lifeline for seasonal fisheries workers, worry it will trigger a renewed exodus of people from the region in a quest for work.

"The changes that we are proposing to EI are not about forcing people to move across Canada or to take work that doesn't match their skill set," Finley said last spring. "Our goal is to help Canadians find local work that matches their skills."

[ Related: 'Sneaky' tax hikes coming in 2013, group warns ]

Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti called the changes "short-term thinking" that targets the unemployed.

"This government would have you believe that they're sitting there and surfing off the shores of Nova Scotia or skiing in the mountains of British Columbia ... it's not true," Georgetti said on CBC News last spring.

Coinciding with the rule changes, the government this week also launched a new email service to inform claimants about available jobs and labour market conditions, CP said.

“The new job alerts system is an important part of our government’s plan to better connect Canadians with available jobs in their area,” Finley said in a statement Sunday.

But Georgetti said many people drawing EI may not have Internet access.