OTTAWA - The federal government has begun visiting Employment Insurance recipients at home as part of an "examination" being conducted while the program undergoes an overhaul.

About 1,200 recipients are receiving invitations, in person, to appear at their customary EI interviews as part of the project, which wraps up next month.

Some EI recipients are already on edge, given the changes to the program that have seasonal workers fearing their benefits might be cancelled. The union representing federal employees, meanwhile, says it's concerned for the safety of its workers.

The federal government has confirmed the house calls.

"An examination to ensure the integrity of the Employment Insurance program is currently underway," Human Resources Development Canada told The Canadian Press in an email.

Federal employees have been making the unannounced visits since January, and have been hand-delivering requests for people to appear at the regular EI interview.

About 50 federal employees have been assigned to the project.

The sample of 1,200 EI recipients has been randomly selected from across the country, according to the government.

One of the people who received a personal visit was a seasonal worker in New Brunswick. The woman, who has worked for 35 years in a fish factory, agreed to speak with The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.

She said that as she was getting home from running errands on Feb. 5, a civil servant arrived at her house.

"It surprised me when she asked for me. It kind of stunned me," the woman said.

"She told me: 'I came to bring you a form. You fill it out, and then I want to have an interview with you on Wednesday.' I told her, 'I'll be there.'"

As with everyone else receiving seasonal benefits, she is being asked to actively seek work in her off-months while awaiting the return to the fish factory.

"All I can do is work in a factory," she said.

"I'm going everywhere to look for work... There is none."

A New Brunswick group has taken up the cause of workers like her.

It says these visits from the feds are only adding fuel in a volatile climate, given the government's EI reforms.

"It's abusive," said Alma Breau-Thibodeau, of the Employment Insurance Action Committee In Defence of Workers.

"They're abusing us like crazy. We all feel targeted by this law. . . You know it's gone too far when you're being checked upon at home.

"We have telephones, you know. And post offices."

An NDP MP from New Brunswick, Yvon Godin, warned the government to stop the house calls — which he described as "intimidation."

He said people are angry and in no mood for a visit from the feds.

"I wouldn't recommend for representatives of the government to go knocking on doors right now. It's dangerous," Godin said.

He said it's wrong for the government to be placing its workers in that position.

A federal workers' union representative said she had already been concerned for all employees because of the controversy over the changes.

"The level of aggressiveness is rising and I'm worried about the safety of the members I represent," said Nathalie Paulin.

"We understand people's distress. We feel it too."

Last May, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced major EI reforms that are being phased in.

From now on, people who frequently claim EI are expected to accept any job for which they're qualified, within 100 kilometres of home, as long as the pay is 70 per cent of their previous salary.

They must also prove they're actively seeking work.

Detractors of the plan say it's particularly harsh on Atlantic Canada and Quebec, which have a number of seasonal industries.

Finley issued a statement this week downplaying the impact on people.

She said nobody will lose any benefits, as long as they take steps to try finding a job and accept a reasonable offer of employment.

Protests against the EI reforms are planned this weekend in a number of cities, especially in Quebec.

Related on HuffPost:

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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