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

Tyler O’Neill has a shot at making the NL all-star team. (Taka Yanagimoto/St. Louis Cardinals)
Executive director of the Friends In Need Food Bank Mary Robson with Darrell Jones, president of Save-On-Foods. (The News files)
Save-On-Foods 4th annual campaign for Maple Ridge food bank starts Thursday, June 17

50 per cent of net proceeds from Western Family brand to be donated

A white bicycle marks the intersection where Dillan Fernando was killed in Pitt Meadows on May 15. (Special to The News)
Family of cyclist killed in Pitt Meadows raising money for Sri Lankan tech centre in his honour

Computer hub would give underprivileged children access to equipment they can not afford

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air traffic at Pitt Meadows Airport returning

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Emiko Nakai will attend Warner Pacific University in Portland, Oregon next year. (Special to The News)
Three SRT Titans earn scholarships

Maple Ridge’s Emiko Nagai, Lucas Hutchinson, and Cade Armour will take talents to college level

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
VIDEO: Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Tuesday’s Lotto Max draw went unclaimed. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lotto Max jackpot goes unclaimed again

42 of the 64 Maxmillion prizes of $1 million were won, the majority were sold in Ontario

FILE - This July 6, 2017 file photo shows prescription drugs in a glass flask at the state crime lab in Taylorsville, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Contaminants in generic drugs may cause long-term harm to DNA: B.C. researcher

Scientist says findings suggest high volume overseas facilities require strict regulation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., on April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Labour shortages, closed borders major obstacles to B.C. restaurant, tourism restarts

Industry expert says it won’t start to recover until international travellers can visit

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Most Read