The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council is calling for tighter control of Employment Insurance, on the back of a new survey they say demonstrates major concerns with the system.
The survey, conducted by Corporate Research Associates sent questions to more than 255 commission members and received 111 responses. The study found that 32 per cent of respondents say current EI rules make it harder to find employees and 41 per cent of employers reported an employee turning down a job offer due to EI eligibility. The worst of the findings, said council executive director Richard Alexander, is that 60 per cent of employers said an employee had asked for a layoff in order to receive EI benefits.
“Not only are employers competing against other employers for labour, they’re actually competing against the EI system. And that is not how the system is supposed to run,” said Alexander on Thursday morning during a half-day employers’ workshop at the Sheraton Hotel on EI challenges and strategies. Alexander added that the other main challenge for employers is that the EI system is currently running a deficit, but he warns that increasing premiums isn’t the solution.
“We know conclusively that when you increase something like an EI premium on employers and employees, not only are you ending up in a situation where employees are taking less home on their paycheque, which nobody wants, but it actually reduces the amount of employment available, and the wage increases that employers offer. So taxing payroll through EI or CPP or payroll tax or workers’ comp has a negative impact on employment levels, so we want to avoid that.” As well, Alexander said their members have reported employees postponing start dates and taking advantage of EI sickness benefits without proper medical documentation.
But the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour said the problem isn’t with the EI system, but with the employers.
“I don’t put any credence into any of the surveys they do internally,” Lana Payne said. “Wages must be awful low if they can’t compete with 55 per cent of someone’s salary. This is something that the employers’ council has been at for a while now. They’ve been attacking Employment Insurance. They’ve been attacking the work ethic of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. They’ve been attacking workers’ compensation. They’ve got nothing better to do over there. They gotta wake up and smell the coffee and realize that the world has changed. No longer is Newfoundland and Labrador a low-wage economy. They’ve got to start competing for workers and competing for the skills that workers bring.”
No time frame for answers
The survey was conducted in 2009, and no time frame was set for respondents’ answers. Employers were asked if an employee had ever asked for a layoff to obtain EI benefits, and if an individual had ever turned down a job to remain eligible for EI. And despite the council’s concerns, the survey also found that 60 per cent of respondents were “mostly satisfied” with the current EI system, while 23 per cent were “mostly dissatisfied.” Two percent were “completely satisfied” with an equal percentage being “completely dissatisfied” and 14 per cent being neither dissatisified nor satisfied (numbers don’t add up to 100 per cent due to rounding).
Alexander said the survey isn’t about finding fault with workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I don’t believe there’s anything really different about us. Seasonal work is right across the country, and EI’s a Canadian system,” said Alexander. “I don’t want people to get the wrong idea when we start talking about EI. We’re not saying to destroy the EI system, turn it upside down, kick people off the EI system — that’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is if you’ve got a situation where you’ve got a labour shortage, and 60 per cent of employers are saying that people are asking for layoffs, well then maybe we should put a little bit more governance and diligence on the EI system to ensure that it’s being used in the method that it’s intended to be used. That’s only going to help the economy.”
Payne said while the EI system isn’t perfect — the federation has been critical of cuts made to benefits and training programs — she thinks the council’s criticism of EI is meant to deflect attention from problems with the labour market in the province.
“I really have a problem with these kinds of things that they get on with, over and over and over again. I find it insulting and derogatory to the working people of our province,” she said.
“So we’ve got the Employers’ Council of Newfoundland and Labrador once again attacking the work ethic of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, the workers of our province, when every other jurisdiction in the country is coming here to hold job fairs. They’re crying out for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Well, why do you think that is? It’s because we have a tremendous work ethic, we bring skills to the job. I just find it astounding that this local crowd can’t seem to recognize that, and yet everybody else in the world understands about what we bring to the job and to the workplace.”