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Changes to EI pose concerns for HSA members

The Report: May / June 1998 vol.18 num.8

by DAN KEETON

Workers hoping to collect maternity benefits face a threat from recentchanges to Employment Insurance - formerly, Unemployment Insurance. The changes might alsoadversely affect members applying for SUB benefits under the HEABC collective agreement,although a union committee is working to increase eligibility for SUB benefits.

EI has made significant and far-reaching changes to calculatingbenefits eligibility. Under the old system, workers had to log so many hours or earn somuch in total wages. The new system is more complex, and it disqualifies more people.

For example, EI has abolished the income threshold. To qualify forregular EI benefits, you must have worked 910 hours in the past 52 weeks. To receivematernity benefits, the figure is 700 hours.

To meet that requirement you must work at least 13.4 hours per week.HSA members work 7.2 hours per day. Anyone working less than 37 per cent of a full-timeequivalent fails to meet the mark. Take off some sick days during that time, and eventhose working 40 per cent of an FTE are disqualified.

This might hit hard working mothers who have collected maternitybenefits and go on maternity leave again within a year of the childs birth. Theywould not qualify.

"Under the old system, our members always met the incomethreshold," notes HSA Labour Relations Officer, Sheila Vataiki. "With the newregulations, income no longer applies and even members working long hours can bedisqualified."

EI defines a work week as 35 hours. If someone works more than thatnumber in a week by, for example, putting in overtime, EI does not count the extra hoursin assessing total hours for eligibility. But if a worker works less than 35 in a week, EIwill dock the total number of hours accordingly.

Organized labour is appealing that regulation through a test case inQuebec.

Regarding regular benefits, anyone working less than half a week withinthe past year would also be ineligible.

Regressive changes over the years to EI and UI before that havedisqualified more and more jobless workers and those on medical leave. Only some 55 percent of Canadas jobless now collect EI benefits.

"That means many of our members are effectively paying an EI taxrather than a premium," Vataiki remarks.

"They will never be eligible for benefits." Some 27 per centof HSAs 8,700 women members work part-time.

There are some aspects of this issue which have been identified forbargaining, and will be brought forward at the negotiating table.

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