EI reforms are not a skills and labour strategy

The Conservative government claims that it is making changes to Employment Insurance to deal with shortages in skilled labour

To the Editor:

The Conservative government claims that it is making fundamental changes to Employment Insurance to deal with “unprecedented” shortages in skilled labour, especially in the West.

However, these reforms do nothing to help the 154,000 unemployed British Columbians develop the skills and get the training they need to fill those shortages.

Instead, the government’s strategy appears to be to force seasonal workers from rural Canada to move, separating them from their families and emptying their communities.

The changes will also force the unemployed to accept work, at up to a 30 per cent pay cut, or else they will lose their EI benefits. Under this system, employers will be stuck with employees who don’t want to be there and plan to leave as soon as they can. Hardly a recipe for positive workplace moral or productivity.

All of which is not to say that the current system is perfect — it does need improvements. In fact, some of the current changes are positive, like extending the “working while on claim” pilot and making the “best 14 weeks” program permanent.

Both of those pilot projects were created by Liberals over a half-decade ago, to test new, innovative reforms to the EI system. We took a progressive and considered approach to changing the system. Unfortunately, the current government has created policy on the fly, with no consultation, based on a belief that EI claimants – especially seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada – are lazy and need to be forced to work using penalizing measures.

As Liberals, we believe in helping people to find work through investing in skills upgrading and retraining, not forcing people to work lower-skilled jobs for less money. The government should be narrowing the rural-urban divide, not expanding it.

Rodger Cuzner, M.P.

 

Liberal critic for Human Resources & Skills Development