OTTAWA - Contentious changes to employment insurance are now in effect.

Beginning Sunday, people on EI face stricter, more complex rules for keeping their benefits, with the goal of getting unemployed workers back into the workforce sooner.

To help people get back to work, the government has also launched a new service to provide information on available jobs and labour market conditions to subscribers via e-mail.

"The new job alerts system is an important part of our government's plan to better connect Canadians with available jobs in their area," said Human Resources Minister Diane Finley in a statement Sunday.

The changes to the EI program were first spelled out in May and elaborate on what the government defines as searching for a suitable job.

A suitable search for a job must now include preparing resumes, registering for job banks, attending job fairs, applying for jobs and undergoing competency evaluations.

A suitable job is defined by factors including commuting time, whether the hours are compatible with the claimant's life and wages.

It will also take into account personal circumstances, such as health, physical capability to perform work, family obligations and transportation options.

The new rules also break down job seekers into essentially two groups: people who've long paid into EI but rarely make a claim and those who are regular users of the system.

A suitable job search for the latter group must include jobs that are similar to what they used to do and if one of those isn't available after a certain period of time, the job seeker has to take any position they are qualified for and accept as much as a 30 per cent pay cut.

The changes have been met with criticism from some politicians and union leaders.

The Atlantic premiers say the new rules could have a devastating effect on fishery, farming and tourism industries which are all seasonal jobs.

And they're concerned that if people are encouraged to leave home to take other jobs, they won't come back.

Last week, hundreds of people in Moncton, N.B, gathered to protest the cuts outside the offices of a local Tory MP.

Policing the new system to make sure claimants are following through is expected to cost the government about $7.2 million per year.

But savings to the EI program are expected to be worth $12.5 million in benefits this year and $33 million next year.

Documents posted with the new regulations in December said it's expected that about 8,000 EI claimants will have their benefits temporarily discontinued until they can prove they are meeting the new rules.

Statistics Canada said Friday that 40,000 job were created in December — all of it in full-time work — driving the unemployment rate to its lowest in four years.

Ontario accounted for about three-quarters of the jobs added across Canada in December and almost all of the other provinces either saw gains or stayed even.

The only exception was Nova Scotia, which lost 5,000 jobs.

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  • Reactions To EI Changes

    A selection of quotes on the newly announced changes to the employment insurance program.<br><br> <em><strong>With files from CP and CBC.</strong></em><br><br> (CP/Alamy)

  • Rona Ambrose

    "New EI changes are like 'E-Harmony' for job seekers and employers: matching Cdns looking for work with available jobs, data, support." - Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, on Twitter. (CP)

  • Peggy Nash

    What we heard today is the minister scapegoating unemployed Canadians . . . that they are not trying hard enough to find work." - NDP Finance Critic Peggy Nash. (CP)

  • Rodger Cuzner

    "While we're glad to see that the Conservatives have backed away from earlier draconian proposals floated by their most senior ministers, including the minister of Finance, we're concerned that the announced changes will force many Canadians to take low-skilled, low-paying jobs, jeopardize the economic security of communities that are reliant on seasonal industries, and that the appeals process will now be handled by a handful of political appointees based in Ottawa instead of by regional experts that are familiar with local circumstances." - Rodger Cuzner, Liberal Human Resources critic. (CP)

  • Elizabeth May

    "The main beneficiaries of the current employment insurance rules are not the workers that Conservative rhetoric seeks to demonize, suggesting that something is wrong with 'repeat users', but rather the employers in forestry, fisheries and tourism industries." - Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. (CP)

  • Kathy Dunderdale

    "We certainly need more information than we have. People having to search for work and having to go within an hour's radius of where they live and so on, on the face of it, that doesn't sound all that onerous or difficult. But that depends on what you work at. In a province where we don't have public transportation, for example, if you're working for a minimum wage job and you have to travel 40 miles away, which is within the hour radius, to work at another $10-an-hour job, is that sensible? Is that prudent?" - Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale, scrumming with reporters at the provincial legislature in St. John's. (CP)

  • Darrell Dexter

    "I'm disappointed that the federal government failed to consult with the provinces and territories on an issue that will impact workers and their families across the country... Under the new rules, some EI recipients that are eligible now will become less eligible in the future. The changes will also make it difficult for some employers to stay in business, including operators in the farming industry. It is already a challenge to keep rural communities strong. Economic changes are forcing people to leave their homes and communities to find work, and in many cases, once they leave, they're gone for good." - Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, in a statement provided to CBC News. (CP)

  • Robert Ghiz

    "When it comes to the EI system in Canada, a one-size-fits-all does not work... On P.E.I., we are very fortunate that our three largest industries are fisheries, agriculture and tourism: all three industries that are seasonal in nature. We are different than downtown Toronto and we are different than downtown Calgary. We know the federal government is looking at making changes that would be a hindrance to our industries that rely on workers coming back year after year that have expertise in these areas, that they need to come back and help to get their products to market." - Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, speaking in the legislative assembly in Charlottetown. (CP)

  • Gregory Thomas, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

    "The new EI rules strike a blow for hard-working Canadian taxpayers, against habitual pogey collectors who have been enjoying part-time work with other people's money for far too long... If you've been collecting pogey more than one year in the past five, maybe it's time to get some training, find a different line of work, or move to where the jobs are... Let's remember, these so-called benefits are nothing more than other people's EI tax money - over $20 billion dollars - forcibly taken from them... Every Canadian should be entitled to keep the money they work for, not have government tax it away and give it out in an attempt to buy votes." - Gregory Thomas, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, from a press release. (Handout)

  • Ken Georgetti, Canadian Labour Congress

    "What she should do as a responsible cabinet minister is take these changes out of that budget bill and start to talk to the people who know the system better than she... Instead she comes up with more fatuous suggestions about situations that really don't exist out there... This is ridiculous economic policy. It's short-term thinking and it's political football with the people that are the most vulnerable in our society. People who are unemployed don't want to be 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." - Ken Georgetti, Canadian Labour Congress, speaking on CBC News Network. (Handout)

  • Catherine Swift, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

    "We believe the changes to defining suitable employment, based on how frequently EI is claimed, will help to remove disincentives to work and hopefully make it easier for small firms to find the people they need... Under the current system, 22 per cent of small business owners said they had difficulty hiring as potential workers would rather stay on EI benefits and another 16 per cent said they had been asked by an employee to lay them off to allow them to collect benefits... Employers agree that EI should be there for those who lose a job through no fault of their own, but do not accept that the system should be used as some form of paid vacation or ongoing lifestyle for those who choose not to work." - Catherine Swift, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, quoted in a news release. (Handout