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UNEMPLOYMENT                                     tem ignores women’s labour market reali-
                                                 ties, as well as their family responsibilities.
INSURANCE                                        In the 1990s, job growth was primarily in
                                                 the area of part-time work and women fill
The insurance scheme that                        the vast majority of part-time jobs. Child
turned into a cash cow for                       bearing and family responsibilities mean
                                                 interruptions or absences from the work-
government                                       place.
   No wonder the Liberal government                  Instead of accommodating this reality, EI
changed the name from Unemployment               is biased against part-time workers. The
Insurance to Employment Insurance (EI).          average work week of a part-time worker is
Don’t count on collecting if you’re unem-        16.5 hours. Before 1997, the minimum
ployed. As of 2002, over a million workers       hours under EI were 15, now they are 35.
have lost EI protection since the Liberal’s          The shift to an hourly formula for deter-
cuts since 1993. And, while benefits have        mining eligibility that took effect with the
been shrinking, the EI surplus has been bal-     introduction of Employment Insurance hurt
looning.                                         all workers but women most of all. Mini-
   Canadian Labour Congress analysis             mum hours for claimants in the workforce
reveals that 60% of the drop in claimants        in most of the country increased to 560
were workers earning less than $15,000 and       from 240. Only a fifth of all women have
over a third or these were earning less than     enough hours to qualify as full year hours.
$10,000 a year. Not surprisingly, women          The hours for new entrants and re-entrants
were the most affected. More women live in       tripled from 300 to 910. Because women
low-income situations than men. In 1997,         leave the labour force for child care and fam-
almost half of single women over 65 and          ily reasons more frequently than men, a dis-
56% of all families headed by lone-parent        proportionate number of women need to
mothers had incomes which fell below low-        qualify as new entrants.
income cut-offs.                                     Unemployed women who do receive
   The drop in coverage has been dramatic.       insurance face another penalty if they have
In 1989, 70% of unemployed women were            weeks of no work or weeks when they earn
covered by Unemployment Insurance. Ten           less than normal earning. For them the ben-
years later, that figure had dropped to just     efit cheque is less than 55% of the regular
32%. The portion of women getting UI is ten      weekly earnings. Even weeks not worked
percentage points less than men. Compared        are counted in when calculating weekly
to 10 years ago, close to 300,000 women          earnings for benefit purposes.
who lose their job will not get EI protection.       The increase in minimum hours has also
   One of the reasons women are dispro-          had an impact on women able to access UI
portionately affected is that the new EI sys-    maternity benefits. Most of the women fail-
ing to qualify work part-time or part-year as   same at $5.2-billion. The remaining $8-bil-
maternity and parental rules favour full-time   lion - more than had been paid out in bene-
workers.                                        fits - was allocated as a surplus.
   The only beneficiary in the EI scheme is          Without the EI surplus, the Liberal gov-
the federal government. While premiums          ernment would have to report a budget
continue to be collected, even from low-        deficit, rather than an overall surplus. The EI
income earners, and eligibility drops, the      surplus is now over $40-billion. This is con-
government keeps building a surplus. In         siderably more than the $15-billion maxi-
1992, the Unemployment Insurance                mum the Chief Actuary of Human
account stood at $20.5-billion. Of that,        Resources Development Canada considered
$15.3-billion was paid out in benefits to       sufficient to cover higher benefit payments
unemployed workers, while the remainder         during a recession and to prevent premium
covered costs associated with employment        rates from rising. The surplus is more than
programs, administration, maternity, parental   sufficient to provide much more inclusive
and sickness benefits.                          coverage.
   In 2002, the EI account stood at roughly
the same amount - $20.4-billion. Except that    Sources: Canadian Labour Congress
now benefit payments accounted for only         Unemployment Insurance Bulletin 2002;
$7.2-billion and other costs remained the       Analysis of UI Coverage for Women

                                 Public Service Alliance of Canada               09/02

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