01/16/2012 06:53 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT

PSAC Union Files Grievance Over EI Delays

The union that represents Service Canada workers has filed a grievance against Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley over recent slowdowns in processing Employment Insurance claims.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said workers have been unfairly blamed for the delays.

"What she has done is angered the public," said Donna MacDonald, the union's national vice-president for the P.E.I. region.

"We have had instances where a claimant has gone over the counter at someone at the front desk because he was just so frustrated it was taking so long to get his EI," she said.

Human Resources Canada reported that on Dec. 31 almost 250,000 Canadians had been waiting more than 28 days for their claims to be processed. Of those, about 1,800 were Islanders.

The situation is expected to get worse when the department closes 100 of its 120 processing centres over the next three years.

Egmont MP Gail Shea, who is minister of national revenue, said she has spoken to the Finley about the effect Employment Insurance slowdowns are having on P.E.I.

She has fielded a few hundred calls from constituents concerned about the backlog in processing claims, she said.

"We have a highly seasonal economy and I do feel for those people that waited for a long time to get their benefits moving this year, so we hope that the minister will have a review of what happened and that better service will be provided," said Shea.

In December, the federal government hired 26 people to help clear the backlog of employment insurance claims in Atlantic Canada.

But critics have said that's not enough, noting only two of them are working in P.E.I.

Meanwhile, Shea warns that more federal cuts may be coming, including in her own department.

As the minister of national revenue, Shea oversees the work of 43,000 federal employees across Canada, including the estimated 1,000 people who work in her own riding, at the tax centre in Summerside.

Shea would not say whether the local centre will see job losses.

"We have been committed to returning to balanced budgets by 2015," she said.

"All departments have been asked to identify five to 10 per cent savings. So all departments are working on that and we will not know the results of that until the budget for 2012."

Signs of belt tightening have already been seen, such as new limits on severance pay, according to tax centre workers.