Human Resources Minister Diane Finley won't confirm whether planned changes to Employment Insurance will target repeat users, but said the details will be announced "soon" and that they will benefit people using the program.
In an interview with Evan Solomon that is airing Saturday on CBC's The House, Finley was asked several times about a report that said upcoming changes to EI will require repeat users to accept lower-paying jobs than people using the program for the first time.
"We haven't announced the details yet but we will be going forward. What we want to do is make sure every Canadian who is working is better off working than being on EI," Finley said. "The details are going to be announced in the coming weeks and months and what I can assure you is they are going to be fair and they're going to be reasonable."
Finley did not say the report was wrong when asked, but she did not confirm its content.
"Those details have not been released, we haven’t explained what they will be. We'll be doing that soon," she said. "We're going to be discussing the details in the very near future and anything up to that point in time is purely speculation."
The budget implementation bill, Bill C-38, refers to changes that are going to be made in the criteria for defining what is suitable work for EI recipients and for defining what are reasonable efforts to find work. Recipients of EI must show on an ongoing basis that they are looking for work in order to qualify for the benefit.
The opposition parties have been demanding details on what the changes will mean but Finley has said the legislation will be passed first, and then the new regulations will be made.
She told Solomon that the changes will be fair and reasonable and will help connect people with available jobs.
"People will be given a lot more help than they have been in the past to find jobs that are within their skill range," she said.
Finley said the government is aiming to make the system fairer and to eliminate disincentives to working that she says are built into the existing system.
"We're going to help them find work, better, faster, but they're going to have to make sure they are doing what they need to do to find a job," she said.
Liberal MP Scott Brison said the lack of information shows "a total disrespect" for Parliament and for Canadians because MPs are being asked to pass a bill that will have a dramatic effect on EI without knowing what the changes will be.
"By failing to provide to Parliament and to Canadians the details on what these changes to Employment Insurance will be, the minister has created a vacuum, there's all kinds of speculation and Canadians don't know, parliamentarians don't know, we have not been told," he said.
NDP House leader Nathan Cullen expressed frustration with the government's resistance to share its plans about EI changes.
"We need the facts," he said.
The full interview with Finley can be heard on CBC Radio on Saturday at 9 a.m. ET.
Photo: CP/Andrew Vaughan
When it comes to evaluating Canadian job growth, the employment numbers are just part of what worries Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets. "It's not only the quantity, but also the quality of employment that's falling in Canada," says Tal. "A lot of the jobs that are being created are low-quality, especially part-time jobs and low-paying jobs." Though -- unlike the U.S. -- Canada has regained all the jobs lost in the recession, he says that an absence of good-paying jobs is the "main reason" why wages have stagnated. Adjusted for inflation, personal after-tax income is now rising at the slowest rate since 1995. Meanwhile, the skills mismatch in many jurisdictions has left employers short on skilled labour despite still-high unemployment levels in other regions. "If you lose a job, you don't have the skill set to go an find a job elsewhere that companies want and need," says Tal. (Alamy photo)
When Caterpillar decided to stop assembling locomotives in its Electro-Motive facility in London, Ont., it was a poignant reminder of how globalization is giving deep-pocketed, transnational corporations the ultimate trump card in bargaining with workers: a cheaper alternative. According to Mike Moffatt, a labour expert at the University of Western Ontario's Ivey School of Business, because of automation and an increase in imports from lower wage jurisdictions like China and Mexico, Canadian workers are competing for fewer manufacturing jobs. "That's given firms real power to negotiate down wages," says Moffatt, who points to the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/06/riotintoalcan-alma-idUSL2E8D699U20120206" target="_hplink">Rio Tinto lockout in Quebec</a> as another illustration of the might afforded to companies with global reach. Since locking out workers at its aluminum smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean on December 31, the Anglo-Australian mining giant has used non-union workers to operate the facility at one-third capacity. With no plans to return to the bargaining table, the company recently announced it is restarting two suspended lines, and is expecting to return to full capacity in May. As Tal maintains, "In this environment, the bargaining power of labour is diminishing."
Just as the power has shifted toward private-sector employers, Michael Lynk, a labour law expert at the University of Western Ontario, says there is a sense that governments are becoming emboldened amid the post-recession climate of austerity that has swept from Toronto's City Hall to Parliament Hill. "There's increasingly an attitude of take-it-or-or leave-it by [private sector] employers, but we may begin to see that with public sector bargaining as well, where they basically say, 'You have to meet our bargaining objectives this round, and we're going to be prepared to endure a short or lengthy lockout to prove our point," he says. Though global economic instability recently prompted federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to pull back on his earlier commitment to deep cost-cutting in the upcoming budget, government departments are expecting spending to be slashed by between five and 10 per cent, a goal that will be met at least in part at the expense of public service jobs and benefits. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently estimated that the <a href="http://www.behindthenumbers.ca/2012/02/02/federal-cuts-could-push-unemployment-to-8/" target="_hplink">federal government's budget cuts could push unemployment up half a percentage point, to 8 per cent</a>. (CP photo)
From <a href="http://dalgazette.com/featured/faculty-strike-rumours-explained/" target="_hplink">Dalhousie University</a> to <a href="http://www.thestar.com/article/1120516--labour-strife-ahead-in-air-canada-pilot-talks" target="_hplink">Air Canada</a>, employers no longer able -- or willing -- to fund costly pension plans are mounting attempts to roll back retirement benefits, stoking labour unrest and a growing sense of financial insecurity among workers. As Dalhouse University labour economist Lars Osberg explains, the financial crisis took a huge bite out of the value of corporate pension portfolios and the interest rate required to generate the stream of returns to make these programs sustainable. All of which explains why experts anticipate a deepening of the trend away from inflation-protected, gold-plated defined-benefit pension plans, shifting responsibility for retirement savings from employers to workers.
The power in numbers that enabled Big Labour to negotiate better wages and benefits in the aftermath of the Second World War is a distant memory today, as the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/12/canada-income-inequality-decline-unions-middle-class-jobs_n_1139136.html" target="_hplink">erosion of unions continues to whittle away the strength of collective bargaining</a>. This is particularly true in the private sector, where unionization sits at 16 per cent of employees, less than a quarter of public sector unionization. "I think you will see more disputes with unions having to compromise more than in the past," says Tal. "I really don't see that they have the upper hand at this point." Given the yawning gap between private and public sector unionization, Lynk warns that pressure on public sector unions could mount as it has in the U.S. in recent months. "The argument they've been floating is, 'Why should public sector workers have jobs for life, good pensions, and decent wages? They're eating up your taxes,'" he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're not [starting] to see the beginnings of that kind of argument here in Canada."