Recent immigrants suffer most under EI system

Posted by admin on Mar 1st, 2005

Toronto Star Recent immigrants suffer most under EI system. Many newcomers can find only part-time and temporary jobs, By Ken Georgetti

It would seem like a reasonable expectation that if you pay insurance premiums you should be able to collect benefits when hard times hit. But our current Employment Insurance system falls far short, particularly for new Canadians. Only 23 per cent of recent immigrants who experience unemployment receive EI benefits, compared to 31 per cent of non-immigrant unemployed workers.Women fare much worse. Among unemployed immigrant women, merely 19 per cent qualify for EI when 30 per cent of other unemployed women do.

The Canadian Labour Congress has long been fighting for an EI program that is fair and adapted to the reality and needs of workers.

All the changes introduced since 1993 have worked to deny benefits to workers who lose their job through no fault of their own and are looking for other work. The proportion of unemployed workers who qualify for EI plummeted from eight in 10 to fewer than four in 10.

Over the last decade, we have documented the punishing impacts of these changes on the country, on federal ridings, on women, on young workers, and on cities.

For instance, Ottawa deprived the Toronto economy of $985 million every year (compared to 1993) because the majority of unemployed workers are no longer eligible for benefits. This, on top of pushing them into poverty and despair.

Today, new research shows that the discriminatory effects of the eligibility rules on women, younger workers and part-time workers are also more acute on new immigrants.

This was evident during the SARS outbreak when many laid-off hotel workers did not qualify for EI benefits despite having a record of regular employment — and having paid premiums.

Here is the situation if you moved to Canada during the last 10 years: Recent immigrants were more likely to experience a spell of unemployment in 2000, averaging four weeks compared to two weeks for other workers.

But their work history in the paid labour force was not all that different. Male immigrants averaged 44 weeks of employment in the year, the same as for non-immigrants. Women immigrants averaged 26 weeks of employment in the year, compared to 37 weeks for other women workers.

EI fails recent immigrants for two key reasons.

First, the EI requirement for new entrants in the job market of 910 hours In a year to access benefits means that a recent immigrant must hold a full-time eight hours a day job for six months.

Second, the majority of new immigrants settle in big cities that tend to have relatively low overall unemployment rates. Because benefits are also determined by where you live as much as by the numbers of hours worked, this further penalizes the unemployed EI claimant.

Many recent immigrants can find only part-time and temporary jobs, or short-term, full-time permanent jobs. They spend a number of difficult years finding adequate employment in terms of pay, hours and job security. But the great majority are nonetheless actively participating in the job

Gaps in hours worked between recent immigrants and other Canadians do not exist because of any unwillingness to work but because of unrecognized skills and credentials, racial discrimination by employers, and the fact that recent immigrants — particularly workers of colour — are disproportionately employed in temporary and short-term jobs.

Decision-makers in Ottawa like to argue that lowering the EI hurdle would discourage work.

But the documented facts are that most unemployed workers are doing their best to find stable, full-time jobs. They and their families need income support from the insurance premiums they pay for.

The Canadian labour movement believes that the current structure of the EI program is one major cause of the high rates of poverty among recent immigrant families in our big cities. We believe something could and should be done about it.

We propose a new common entrance requirement of 360 hours of work. That means no extra high hurdle for newcomers to the Canadian job market, and no extra high hurdles for big-city workers.

It means that women part-time workers and workers moving from one short-term job to another would have a more realistic chance, between jobs, of collecting benefits they paid for.

At long last, it appears, we are beginning to get the politicians’ attention.

Two weeks ago, the House of Commons Committee on Human Resources Development endorsed our call for a 360-hour common entrance requirement, among other needed reforms. Sadly and unfortunately, the government ignored the call: Last week’s federal budget will not help unemployed

Cabinet ministers, including ministers from Toronto, need to get the message that EI is a big-city issue, particularly for new immigrant working families struggling to find a secure foothold in our job market and to provide a decent income for their families.

Ken Georgetti is president of the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 3 million workers.

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