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Extension of EI sickness benefits only a small step forward

Ottawa (30 Nov. 2022) — As of December 18, 2022 workers who are eligible for EI and have to temporarily leave their jobs due to illness injury or quarantine will be able to receive up to 26 weeks of EI sickness benefits. However, compared to what’s needed to fix the Employment Insurance (EI) system so that it once again provides an effective safety net for workers, this announcement is only a small step forward. 

Delays in EI reform mean many workers won’t benefit from the announcement

Unfortunately, decades of cuts to EI mean that the benefits from the extension of sickness benefits will be limited. Eligibility requirements have been tightened to the point where many unemployed workers aren’t able to qualify for EI. And because benefits are only 55% of average earnings, many low paid workers who would be eligible won’t be getting enough to live on.

Federal government needs to keep its promise to improve EI

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the problems with EI became too big to ignore. Had the federal governments not brought in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other measures, millions of people would have been left with no income. After years of pressure from the labour movement, the federal government was forced to promise EI reform to fix the problems with the program.

But even though improvements are desperately needed, the federal government has been dragging its heals on permanent EI reform. Instead of making it easier to qualify and improving benefits so that people who are unemployed don’t fall through the cracks, the federal government allowed temporary improvements to the EI program to expire. This means that we are back to where we were before the pandemic.

With the threat of a recession, workers cannot afford to wait. The federal government needs to act now on its promise to reform EI so that the program does what it was originally intended to do – provide a safety net for workers who lose their jobs.