POLITICS

Callers to government 1-800 number made to hurry up and wait for EI information

06/25/2015 02:26 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Calling the government to talk about employment insurance? Get comfortable — you'll likely be waiting more than 10 minutes to talk with someone.

That's according to data tabled in Parliament earlier this month that shows the average wait time on Service Canada's 1-800 line last year was 719 seconds, or about 12 minutes, for anyone seeking EI information.

So far this year, things appear to be getting better: The average wait time in April was about 10 minutes.

The figures show callers seeking help with Canada Pension Plan and old age security waited an average of nearly three minutes last year.

As of April, the wait times had gone up to about four minutes, or 253 seconds.

The figures were tabled in response to a written question from Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.

The Liberal critic on the EI file, Rodger Cuzner, blamed the long wait times on a combination of job cuts at government call centres and slow uptake on automated phone services.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents workers at federal call centres, has said some 600 jobs were cut when the government culled the number of centres to 19 from 120.

"I don't know if Homer Simpson has been offering them advice on resource management, but when you take that many bodies out of the department you can't expect it be an efficient operation," Cuzner said.

Service Canada's standard is to answer 80 per cent of calls within 10 minutes, but the figures provided to the Liberals suggest that not even 50 per cent of calls were answered in that time.

That's not even including the 12 million calls last year that were answered by an automated message encouraging callers to hang up and call back at a different time when call volumes were lower.

Four years ago, the standard for answering calls was 80 per cent within three minutes, according to the 2011 service standard report card posted to the Service Canada website.

Cuzner said the government should hire more people to work in the call centres at least until they get the automation system working efficiently.

Automation was partly to blame for a backlog in processing EI claims that forced the government to hire 400 extra workers in 2014 to clear the outstanding claims.

Cuts in the 2013 budget reduced how many claims could be quickly processed.

The standard was to provide 80 per cent of claimants their first EI payment within 28 days of receipt of a claim.

Budget cuts reduced that standard to about 70 per cent in the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, said Pierre Nolet, a spokesman for Employment and Social Development Canada. Nolet said the additional employees the department hired have brought the processing times back to the 80 per cent standard.

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