A Foodora courier is pictured as they pick up an order for delivery from a restaurant in Toronto, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A Foodora courier is pictured as they pick up an order for delivery from a restaurant in Toronto, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Two-year EI review needed to buy time for needed tech upgrades, Qualtrough says

Budget sets aside $5 million over two years for a long-sought review of EI

Canada’s employment minister says a budgetary pledge for funding to study changes to the employment insurance system reflects realities that improvements to the safety net can’t happen overnight.

The federal budget proposed $648 million over seven years to fund a long-term technological upgrade to the EI system, the oldest portions of which rely on programming language from the 1960s.

At the same time, the budget sets aside $5 million over two years for a long-sought review of EI.

The timeline was disappointing to some who wanted a more immediate change to the decades-old system, but reflected the reality of how officials realized more time was required.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said there is a need to first update aging technological infrastructure before any changes to EI can take effect.

She also said the review will focus on thorny policy issues, with gig or self-employed workers being the thorniest of all.

“We can’t do everything at once,” she said in an interview, adding it’s not as simple as snapping her fingers to create a “utopian EI system.”

“There are all these other considerations that we have to take into account.”

The government has spent years trying to figure out how to adapt the EI program to modern realities with a rapid growth in the gig economy. There were about 1.7 million gig workers in 2016, a 70 per cent jump from a decade earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

An April 2018 presentation by Employment and Social Development Canada suggested preparing for labour force changes should consider a “large scale expansion of both labour market and social supports” and eligibility for benefits if the gig economy became the new normal.

It suggested officials start thinking about how to overhaul income support programs, including the “possibility of universal or means tested delivery scheme to guarantee (a) minimum standard of living.”

The drop of three million jobs last March and April threatened to overwhelm the EI system so much so that the government put it on hiatus and put unemployed Canadians onto a pandemic-aid program, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

But it also highlighted issues long known about the employment insurance system, including how not all workers can qualify for benefits, and more are blocked entirely.

“There is a lot of material out there. We’re going to build upon that, and really try and strike the balance between needing to engage and needing to act,” Qualtrough said.

She added consultations will focus on areas of disagreement between employers and worker groups, such as how to calculate premiums and benefits for gig workers, in addition to policy concerns about determining when someone needs aid, given that the nature of gig employment includes ups and downs.

Qualtrough said it isn’t a simple conversation or policy to provide a broader benefit to more workers in the country while maintaining some oversight to make sure help goes where it is needed.

“This challenge of unpacking the spectrum of types of work, and potentially getting out of that frame into one where no matter where you work or how you work, every hour of work is somehow — and it’s super challenging — accounted for in a way that you get credit towards some kind of employment insurance scheme,” she said.

“It’s really a difficult nut to crack.”

In tandem, Labour Minister Filomena Tassi has been speaking for months with platforms and their workers about what changes might be needed in federal labour rules to protect Uber drivers, for instance, while they are on the job.

She is set to meet with her provincial and territorial counterparts to talk about the rise in platform work among other issues facing the labour force.

The April 2018 presentation, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, also suggested officials “consider the value and feasibility of new legal protections to create (a) backstop on disruption,” outlining examples like a “bill of rights for human workers” and new rules on monetizing users’ data.

In a separate interview, Tassi said platform workers have told her they don’t want to lose the flexibility in their hours the work provides, but also want greater protections while on the job.

“We are going to attempt to achieve both things because we don’t want to take the benefits away from workers, but at the same time we have to ensure that there are those protections for workers.”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

EI benefitsEI review

Just Posted

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

A motorycle crash has been reported on Westside Road. (Google Maps)
UPDATE: Westside Road reopened following motorcycle crash near Vernon

AIM Roads advises drivers to expect delays due to congestion

An Armstrong family that lost their home to a fire on Wednesday still hasn’t found their cat as of Friday, June 18, 2021. (Facebook photo)
Family cat still missing, days after fire destroys Armstrong home

There were no injuries from Wednesday’s blaze, but two days later there’s still no sign of the white feline

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

The Coldstream cemetery, located at 7600 Howe Drive — Officials are working on a cemetery master plan and accepting public input until (District of Coldstream photo)
Input sought on future of Coldstream cemetery

Until July 2, locals can complete a survey to help guide Coldstream’s cemetery master plan

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Earls On Top at 211 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna. (Google Maps photo)
Downtown Kelowna’s Earls ordered closed after COVID-19 transmission

Earls on Top on Bernard Avenue will be closed from June 18 to June 27

(File photo)
Penticton not holding Canada Day activities out of respect for Indigenous people

Cities across B.C. are cancelling the holiday after an increased spotlight on Canada’s dark history

Dereck Donald Sears. (Contributed/Crimestoppers)
Murder charge laid in relation to suspicious Kelowna death

Dereck Donald Sears is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Darren Middleton

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Most Read