No welcome mat for EI house calls

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By Fannie Olivier, THE CANADIAN PRESS

A New Brunswick MP warned the federal government to stop the house calls which he described as 'intimidation', while the Employment Insurance Action Committee In Defence of Workers called the surprise visits 'abusive'.

Some EI recipients are already on edge, given the changes to the program that have seasonal workers fearing their benefits might be cancelled.

[OTTAWA, ON] - The federal government has begun visiting Employment Insurance recipients at home as part of an "examination" being conducted while the program undergoes an overhaul.

About 1,200 recipients are receiving invitations, in person, to appear at their customary EI interviews as part of the project, which wraps up next month.

Some EI recipients are already on edge, given the changes to the program that have seasonal workers fearing their benefits might be cancelled. The union representing federal employees, meanwhile, says it's concerned for the safety of its workers.

The federal government has confirmed the house calls.

"An examination to ensure the integrity of the Employment Insurance program is currently underway," Human Resources Development Canada told The Canadian Press in an email.

Federal employees have been making the unannounced visits since January, and have been hand-delivering requests for people to appear at the regular EI interview.

About 50 federal employees have been assigned to the project.

The sample of 1,200 EI recipients has been randomly selected from across the country, according to the government.

One of the people who received a personal visit was a seasonal worker in New Brunswick. The woman, who has worked for 35 years in a fish factory, agreed to speak with The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.

She said that as she was getting home from running errands on Feb. 5, a civil servant arrived at her house.

"It surprised me when she asked for me. It kind of stunned me," the woman said. "She told me: 'I came to bring you a form. You fill it out, and then I want to have an interview with you on Wednesday.' I told her, 'I'll be there.'"

As with everyone else receiving seasonal benefits, she is being asked to actively seek work in her off-months while awaiting the return to the fish factory.

"All I can do is work in a factory," she said. "I'm going everywhere to look for work... There is none."

A New Brunswick group has taken up the cause of workers like her.

It says these visits from the feds are only adding fuel in a volatile climate, given the government's EI reforms.

"It's abusive," said Alma Breau-Thibodeau, of the Employment Insurance Action Committee In Defence of Workers. "They're abusing us like crazy. We all feel targeted by this law. . . You know it's gone too far when you're being checked upon at home.

"We have telephones, you know. And post offices."

An NDP MP from New Brunswick, Yvon Godin, warned the government to stop the house calls, which he described as "intimidation".

He said people are angry and in no mood for a visit from the feds.

"I wouldn't recommend for representatives of the government to go knocking on doors right now. It's dangerous," Godin said.

He said it's wrong for the government to be placing its workers in that position.

A federal workers' union representative said she had already been concerned for all employees because of the controversy over the changes.

"The level of aggressiveness is rising and I'm worried about the safety of the members I represent," said Nathalie Paulin. "We understand people's distress. We feel it too."

Last May, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced major EI reforms that are being phased in.

From now on, people who frequently claim EI are expected to accept any job for which they're qualified, within 100 kilometres of home, as long as the pay is 70 per cent of their previous salary.

They must also prove they're actively seeking work.

Detractors of the plan say it's particularly harsh on Atlantic Canada and Quebec, which have a number of seasonal industries.

Finley issued a statement this week downplaying the impact on people.

She said nobody will lose any benefits, as long as they take steps to try finding a job and accept a reasonable offer of employment.

Protests against the EI reforms are planned this weekend in a number of cities, especially in Quebec.

Organizations: Employment Insurance, Canadian Press, Human Resources Development Canada

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Quebec, Atlantic Canada

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  • Sean
    February 21, 2013 - 11:13

    I fail to see the problem. EI benefits abuse is widespread and a drain upon all of us - including those who use the system honestly. I have paid into the system since I was 14, and have never drawn a penny out - but I am glad it is there and do no resent the payments I put in. But I do resent abuse of that system, or annual dependance on it. This is just another way of subsidizing failing industries - instead of paying a fishing plant directly, they're subsidizing the employees so they can be available in 7 months to work for another 20 weeks. How is that a sustainable business model? How is it anyone's right to have me pay for their life in their little town? And then get offended when asked for prove they're doing everything they can to make it cheaper? Please - within reason, your right to get offended with government oversight ends when you stick out your hand for the dole. I'd love it if we lived in a perfect world where every community could hold on to its industries and provide livings for those in and around them. But that's not the case - the only thing seasinal EI benefits do is kick the can down the road at great expense - using monies that could be much better spent elsewhere.

    • Tammy Gillis
      February 21, 2013 - 13:04

      I am a seasonal worker, and have no problem with accepting work, or being asked to come in for interviews to discuss my efforts to find work, or to discuss employment possibilities. I collect EI, but am also working part-time at a low-paying job. No problem:the job is close to home so doesn't cost an arm and a leg to travel and I am happy to get out and work and contribute, rather than sit at home and wait for the check every two weeks. I have been applying for jobs, interviewed for one that pays about half my wages of my seasonal job with no pension or benefits. I even registered to have the e-mails sent, you know, that system that is supposed to send me a few jobs that match my skills, etc. Unfortunately, I live in central NS and am being e-mailed, twice daily, ALL jobs from Yarmouth to New Waterford, regardless of what they are or what they pay. I work in a customer service/clerical type position, so e-mailing me jobs for long-haul truck drivers is not necessary. But, I still open the e-mails and check them all out....you never know when there might be a good one. I also check the local job line and newspapers for job postings. So, would I have a problem being asked to come in for an interview? Not in the least. And I really don't care if they invite me via e-mail, mail, phone, or personal visit. I do, however, have a problem with the fact that money is being wasted to send 50 staffers on the road to pay a visit to EI recipients, when come April, Service Canada will be eliminating the arbitration board of appeals for EI applicants. If they don't have the funds to continue that program, where is the money coming from to send these 50 employees out on the road? And what are they doing to ensure the safety of these employees when they visit these homes? It is only a matter of time before one of these people gets hurt....the potential is certainly there, whether it be an assault, an attack by a dog, or even a car accident. But I digress: I would far rather see Service Canada put some money into doing better research so as to e-mail me a list of jobs that would actually be suitable, according to their own criteria: any job I can do for a minimum of 70% of my regular wages, withing a 100 kilometre distance from my home. I will tell you: I cannot drive a tractor trailer nor am I qualified to be an RN, I do not live within 100 kms of New Waterford, and $10.15/hour is less than 70% of my regular wage. Do what you said you would do, and we EI recipients (at least those of us who are honest and appreciate the rules) will do what we said we would do when we applied for benefits. Oh, and by the way, you get paid far more than we, so the incentive is certainly there for you. If it isn't, I am fairly certain I would be qualified to do what you do and would love to work at Service Canada year-round and not have to rely on seasonal work and EI to support my family.

  • Lucy
    February 21, 2013 - 10:52

    Talk about Big Brother watching! Let's show up on the doorsteps of federal leaders who are driving the new EI rules and see if they're doing their jobs and request they come for a sit-down review.

    • Tammy Gillis
      February 21, 2013 - 13:06

      Good idea Lucy! Let's start with the $130,00+ senators, many of whom are missing senate hearings more often than not. Then, let's look at attendance rolls in the House of Commons; there are often a lot of MP's gone AWOL. My parents always advocated we practice what we preach--maybe politicians should as well.