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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported five additional deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. (File photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer at 169 active cases of COVID-19

Province set to move into Stage 2 of reopening Thursday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Most Read