Canada: Employment Insurance consultations to be launched later this summer
Gatineau: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada has taken decisive action to provide Canadians with the support they need to stay safe and healthy. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit and, later, the Canada Recovery Benefits have been important lifelines for many Canadians workers and their families during these unprecedented times.
As part of the Government’s economic response to the pandemic, temporary measures were introduced in September 2020 to allow greater flexibility and more people access to the Employment Insurance (EI) program, some for the first time. As a result, more than 3.79 million people have accessed EI since last fall, with the program delivering over $37 billion to support Canadian workers and their families. In addition, more than 297,000 workers have accessed EI sickness benefits, which allowed them to stay home to help flatten the curve and not worry about putting food on the table.
The EI program is a critical feature of Canada’s social safety net, supporting workers during temporary work disruptions while at the same time helping to cushion economic downturns. While the Government has made a number of significant changes to strengthen EI in recent years, the program has not had a comprehensive reform in over two decades. The pandemic has further highlighted the need for Canada to modernize the EI system for the 21st Century, so that it better aligns with the realities of today’s labour market and workforce.
Today, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, announced that the Government of Canada will deliver on its Budget 2021 commitment by launching consultations on future longer-term EI improvements in August. The Government will consult with Canadian workers, employers and other stakeholders, recognizing that both employees and employers are partners in the program and have an important stake in how it evolves.
These consultations will help the Government of Canada better understand the needs of workers and employers who could benefit from improvements to the EI program, including in the areas of access, adequacy and affordability. The immediate focus of the consultations will be on improving access to EI by examining systemic gaps exposed by COVID-19. These include the need for income support for self-employed and gig workers; how best to support Canadians through different life events, such as adoption; and how to provide more consistent and reliable benefits to workers in seasonal industries.
The input received will help build an EI program that is more responsive to evolving needs, while ensuring its financial sustainability.
Building a modern EI system to support the nature of today’s labour market is an ambitious project. Recognizing the limitations of the current aging IT system that delivers millions of EI benefits to workers each year, a phased approach to implementing changes is required. Services to employers and workers who need to access the system will remain a top priority.