01/07/2013 04:24 EST | Updated 03/09/2013 05:12 EST

EI changes broaden 'suitable employment' criteria

Changes to Canada's employment insurance could force job seekers to take work below their skill level and further away from their homes, critics say.

Margaret van Nooten, a social rights worker for Project Genesis in Côte-des-Neiges, is concerned the changes will require the people she helps to take work that won't fit their lifestyle.

"I really feel that people will be quite hard hit by these changes," she said.

"People have six weeks of looking for employment in their field ... After that, there could be monitoring as to their job search efforts without them being able to specify, 'Well, I haven't taken this particular job because it's a pay reduction for me or because it would take almost two hours to get there or I wouldn't be able to be home in time to make supper for my children.'"

The federal government's EI reform includes changes to the definitions of "suitable employment" and "a reasonable job search."

In order to determine what qualifies as suitable employment, claimants will be placed in one of three categories: Long-tenured workers, frequent claimants and occasional claimants.

Claimants will no longer qualify for EI if they refuse a job within a one-hour radius of their home, even if the job pays 30 per cent less than their previous employment.

Van Nooten's concern is that frequent users of EI will be subjected to increased monitoring and will risk not receiving the aid they need.

Kellie Leitch, parliamentary secretary to Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources, said the government is not making it harder for Canadians to collect EI but rather, is making it easier for them to find work.

"This initiative is simply clarifying what has always existed in employment insurance," she said.

"We're just making sure individuals - Canadians - know the responsibilities they have when they're collecting EI. In fact, what we are doing is we're enhancing our job program to make sure that these individuals know more jobs are available to them."

According to the province's Institut de la Statistique, 220,000 Quebecers receive employment insurance every month.

EI categories:

- Long-tenured workers: "Those who have paid at least 30 per cent of the annual maximum EI premiums for 7 of the past 10 years and who, over the last 5 years, have collected EI regular or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less."

- Frequent claimants: "Those who have had three or more claims for EI regular or fishing benefits and have collected benefits for a total of more than 60 weeks in the past 5 years."

- Occasional claimants: "All other claimants."