MP says EI claimants upset with long delays

Deana Stokes Sullivan
Published on November 16, 2011
Ryan Cleary — File photo

Recent job cuts at Service Canada’s call centre in Pleasantville are being blamed for creating long delays in the processing of employment insurance (EI) claims and fuelling frustrations for both claimants and workers.

Ryan Cleary, NDP MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, said Tuesday a Service Canada employee told him this week the wait time for an EI claim to be processed was normally 28 days, but, in a lot of cases now, it’s six weeks or even two months because there aren’t enough workers to handle the claims.

Cleary said 20 positions that would normally be filled by the end of June to look after EI claims have not been filled, and that’s what is creating the delays.

Most of these claimants have been living from paycheque to paycheque before being laid off and then have to wait six to eight weeks to receive an EI cheque, Cleary said.

In the meantime, he said, their bills, car and mortgage payments are coming due, some face threats of foreclosure and have trouble just putting food on the table.

“These are all the messages that this Service Canada employee related to me yesterday and he said the frustration is building,” Cleary added.

At one point last week, he said, the employee told him a claimant threatened to walk into the Service Canada centre in Pleasantville and “blow away” the employees.

Cleary said the police were called and this was dealt with, but it’s reflective of the building frustrations among EI claimants who are having an “incredibly hard time making ends meet and to wait this extra long wait time is causing just incredible frustration, not just for them but for their families.”

The MP asked his source what he would say if he were in the House of Commons. Cleary said he replied that he would ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to pay a visit to a call centre dealing with EI claimants and “listen to the desperation in people’s voices.”

Cleary said even the wait for a call back is longer. It used to be three days and it’s now five.

Denise Best, national union representative for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU), said she’s aware of these concerns.

And, she fears there will be even more ramifications from further cutbacks planned by the federal government as it automates this system.

Best said anyone in need of money are going to get upset, even though the employees are trying to help them the best they can.

“You have all that, plus you have our compensation advisers who are being relocated,” she said.

About 11 advisers are being relocated to Winnipeg or Montreal, Best said. They can choose one of these locations for two years and, after that, they have to relocate to Miramichi, N.B.

The cuts planned by the Harper government will affect communities in the province, especially rural communities, Best said, because it’s also planned to have only one processing site in St. John’s. The three other existing sites — Corner Brook, Happy Valley and Gander — will not be processing EI claims by 2014, she said.

Best estimates between 50 and 70 jobs will be affected.

She said the federal government is saying employes will be offered other jobs in other departments but every other department is facing cuts too.

And, if they have to relocate out of the province, Best said that’s going to affect the spouses of these employees, who will have to leave their jobs if they’re employed here, and their children who will have to be taken out of their schools.

So, the numbers in the communities are going to go down as well, she said. “There will be like a ripple effect all the way along. So, that kind of leaves our members wondering what the hell is going to happen to them at the end of the day?”

Best said she’s also not confident that the proposed automated system will work as effectively as the federal government says it will.

She said claims now can be filed from your home computer, but if there’s one little thing wrong, when it goes into the system, it’s kicked back out to an employee to fix.

“So, by saying that because of automation, they’re going to need fewer people, that’s just not true,” Best said.

She figures the changeover to an automated system is about 3/4 completed now. Best said the federal government hasn’t given the union an exact date, but the downsizing of processing sites from four to one is set for 2014.