Alberta labour federation says the province gets a raw deal on E-I benefits

EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour has released an analysis that supports its push to shorten waiting times for federal Employment Insurance benefits in Alberta.

The labour group says Albertans are being short-changed because they have to work more hours to qualify for benefits compared to workers in other provinces.

"The ranks of the unemployed in Alberta swell each month as layoffs continue," AFL President Gil McGowan said Sunday. "But the safety net we pay into is failing to stop their fall."

The labour group's analysis found that the number of unemployed in Alberta has doubled since October of last year to almost 154,000. The report also found that only 15 per cent of young Alberta workers are eligible of employment insurance when they lose their job.

The analysis calls for drastic changes to the employment insurance program, including a standard 360-hour eligibility period, elimination of the two-week waiting period and extending the benefit period to two years.

"Laid-off workers are getting hit hard by the recession," said McGowan. "It is the responsibility of the government to make sure they can continue to pay the rent and feed their families."

The report found most of the lost jobs have been full-time positions, while the number of people being forced to take part-time work in Alberta has increased significantly since last fall.

The analysis also found Alberta with the lowest percentage of jobless workers receiving unemployment benefits at 39 per cent, compared to 55 percentage of Quebec's jobless getting E-I benefits.

"But even workers who are lucky to get EI benefits find it simply isn't enough," said Tom Olenuk, President of the Edmonton and District Labour Council. "Rates are too low and for too many, their benefits get cut off too quickly."

The AFL said the federal government uses a complicated formula to set E-I criteria in each region.

In Alberta, the rules reflect the boom times that the province had been experiencing up to about a year ago - not the spike in employment that occurred after markets crashed last fall and energy prices began to plummet.

"The government's arbitrary rate setting did not take into account Alberta's resource-driven economy," says the nine-page report.

Alberta's labour federation is also calling for increased funding for training programs for the jobless.

Canadian Press, Sun Sept 6 2009
Byline: Jim Macdonald

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