Harper’s anti-social changes to EI

2012.05.28.Oppose attacks on unemployedNEW REGULATIONS to Employment Insurance (EI) took effect on January 6, 2013 and are the target of a National Day of Action on February 23. (For the calendar of events, see here.) People are demanding a repeal of these anti-social changes and a rendering of account of the Harper dictatorship. A government that willingly cuts off the already meagre unemployment benefits that less than half of all unemployed workers have access to and uses the EI program to lower the living and working conditions of all workers is not fit to govern.

The changes ensure that workers’ living and working conditions will generally fall putting downward pressure on the standard of living of all Canadians. The Harper dictatorship is very candid that these rules aim to reduce unemployed workers’ benefits. In the backgrounder that accompanies the rules, the government says it expects 8,000 EI recipients will be immediately eliminated from receiving benefits while others will receive less resulting in a “savings” of $12 million the first year and $33 million every following year.

Contrary to what is conveyed in the monopoly media, Harper government’s offensive against unemployed workers will impact all workers, not just in the regions, but in major cities as well. According to Montreal’s Department of Economic and Urban Development, 48 per cent of Montreal residents of working age work part-time – 52 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men do not work full-time. Conditions of employment in several sectors are deteriorating and full-time work is no longer the norm.

The EI changes originate from Bill-38, the omnibus budget implementation bill rammed through Parliament last year and which modified, amended or repealed over 60 pieces of legislation in one shot, including the Employment Insurance Act. It repeals the sections of the Employment Insurance Act that define the terms “suitable employment” and a “reasonable job search” paving the way to new regulations that can be changed at will by the Minister.

The draconian, anti-social changes include:

1. Regulations can be changed at will by the Minister without the assent of Parliament. It is a deliberate provision giving the executive power a means to cut off unemployed workers, creating even more chaos and turmoil in their lives with as little public scrutiny as possible. It is further wrecking of public institutions, in this case, of governments and legislation, to allow unfettered slashing of social programs and transfer of public money to narrow private interests. Harper is using the EI program to lower the living and working conditions of all workers.

2. It only retains employment arising from a labour conflict as unsuitable. Everything else, the provisions limiting the possibility of forcing EI recipients, under threat of reduced benefits, to accept jobs that are not in their usual occupation or at lower wages, was erased from the Bill. Furthermore, the new rules, which now prescribe cutting off benefits if a recipient does not agree to work at lower wages and outside her/his usual occupation after a definite time, were turned into EI regulations and are no longer part of the Act.

3. During the first six weeks of EI benefits, frequent claimants must accept work in a similar occupation at 20 per cent less than they were earning when laid off. After that, they will have to accept any job with wages up to 30 per cent lower than they were earning.

Occasional claimants have six weeks to find a job in their own occupation and must accept a wage reduction of up to 10 per cent. After six weeks, they must look for work in a similar occupation with a 20 per cent wage cut and after 18 weeks, they have to take any job at up to 30 per cent less.

Long-tenured workers have 18 weeks to find work in their own occupation at 90 per cent of previous earnings, and then must look for work at 80 per cent of previous earnings.

4. So-called “Seasonal workers”, such as forestry and silviculture or those who fight forest fires fishermen and fish plant workers and construction workers in depressed regions or remote areas, who have to go on EI for about two months a year. With the new regulations, the first year, you make 70 per cent of your previous wage. The second year, it is going to be 70 per cent of the 70 per cent,; you are going to make 50 to 60 per cent of the wage you are paid right now. The reference point for earnings will be calculated using the longest period at work, which may not be the highest earnings. The EI program is going to force them to travel 100 km from home to find a new job. All EI recipients must now agree to commute one hour or even longer to get to their new job or be cut off EI benefits. The younger workers are going to quit their job, this is going to cause more exodus, out-migration from the Maritimes, Newfoundland and Quebec and turmoil; businesses are going to lose their employees, fishermen are going to emigrate to Fort McMurray to compete for jobs in the oil sands.

Less than half of all unemployed workers have access to the already meagre unemployment benefits.

In New Brunswick, there are about 40,000 who according to the government should be “denounced” because they are on EI. The government says it is going to connect them with the jobs but there are only 3,000 jobs that are available.

– Tony Seed, with files from TML Daily

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For your information

The Labour Market Is a Modern Slave Trade of Employees

Confronting Unemployment and Insecurity of 
an Uncertain Livelihood Means 
Confronting Monopoly Right (Excerpts)

By K.C. ADAMS, TML Daily, December 3, 2005

[…] Those in authority in the economy and its political system refuse to recognize and confront the condition of permanent mass unemployment, which emerges not from any shortcomings of the people but from internal contradictions within the economic and political system itself.

The economy holds captive a section of the people in permanent unemployment or underemployment and another section in constant insecurity of employment, facing poverty and official disrespect and abuse of their personal dignity and well-being. Monopolies dominate the most important sectors of the economy and run them as their private fiefdoms. They demand a labour market with a large permanent pool of unemployed workers to be available at a moment’s notice and to put downward pressure on the claims of the working class. The monopolies base their investments and other important economic decisions on the well-being of their private empires and mostly ignore the social and environmental problems that are a consequence of their actions and system. Monopolies view permanent problems such as insecurity of employment and livelihood as essential to the functioning of their economic system. They refuse to use their authority to confront and change the conditions that are the basis and root cause of all major social and environmental problems.

An authority that shows such disinterest in dealing with problems that emerge from the economic system itself, such a state that allows monopoly right to run rampant, disregard social and other problems and trample on the dignity of people for years on end can only be considered a failed state. Any modern state or institution that refuses to address the problem of permanent mass unemployment and insecurity of livelihood and instead argues that such a state of affairs is necessary for the functioning of the economic system or ignores racial, gender, regional and other prejudices in employment does not deserve the respect and authority it may now hold. The ruling authority must address and change the conditions giving rise to permanent mass unemployment and insecurity of livelihood or the people representing the popular demand for changed conditions must organize to replace the authority that currently resides in the hands of the monopolies and their state.

The Canadian economic system and its ruling elite face a dilemma: either face up to the fact that modern mass production on its own cannot absorb the available mass of workers and therefore the state is obligated to provide without regret a Canadian standard livelihood to all unemployed by simply dismissing the quasi-religious anti-social nonsense that such a social program would dampen initiative and destroy the urge to work and ruin the economy; or, upon refusing to face up to the reality of the conditions and blight of permanent mass unemployment face a loss of authority and the rise to political power of people who are determined to change the conditions by changing the relations of production, eliminating the labour market and providing work for all at the level, ability and desire of each and every individual and guaranteeing the well-being of all from birth to passing away.

Whether an economic system, comprised of monopolies that control the basic sectors, imports workers through immigration, as is the case with Canada, or does not import workers, as is the case with Japan, the result is the same permanent mass unemployment. The rate of unemployment is governed by contradictions within the specific monopoly capitalist system itself and not by a growing or falling aggregate population. The total population of a country affects the absolute number of unemployed but not directly the rate.

Mass unemployment is a chronic feature of modern mass concentrated production exacerbated by centralized monopoly control of the main economic sectors. Full employment can only be achieved by abolishing the labour market itself and the backward archaic notion of voluntary-servitude as an economic factor to be bought and sold, and by instituting a social policy of providing work for all people at whatever level individuals can achieve or desire through education and training. At the present time, such a campaign for full employment means confronting monopoly right.

If the monopolies refuse to abolish the labour market and insist on having a constant pool of unemployed, if they block the economy from providing everyone work at whatever level individuals can achieve or desire, then all those in the vast swirling constantly changing pool of unemployed and underemployed workers must be provided, as a matter of right and social justice, a Canadian standard livelihood with modern levels of food, housing, clothing, education, health and culture.

This must become a battleground based on the right to a livelihood for all regardless of ability, age, gender or any other criteria.

If unemployment is a permanent feature of monopoly capitalism and modern mass production and emerges from its very structures, as reality shows it to be, then the people are confronted with a challenge: change the relations of production and economic structures that continually reproduce unemployment; and, until that goal has been accomplished, force the authority to provide workers in the pool of unemployed, and all others old and young, a Canadian standard livelihood with full security of food, housing, clothing, education, health and culture.

If the monopolies insist on keeping a labour market with a pool of unemployed and underemployed workers to serve their system of uneven and erratic development in increasingly concentrated and centralized centres of production and distribution; and, if they block the country from moving forward to something new and enlightened, then the monopolies must be compelled to support the unemployed and underemployed with enough social product to guarantee everyone a Canadian standard livelihood.

Life itself and the direct experience of the Canadian working class prove that unemployment and underemployment are permanent fixtures of the economy and a source of great social tension and chaos especially in the big cities and certain deprived regions. If the entire resources of the nation were put behind eradicating unemployment, or failing that, supporting the unemployed with a Canadian standard livelihood, a great social injustice would be corrected and Canadian humanity and society would be uplifted. Such a nation-building project is now blocked by the monopolies for self-serving anti-social reasons.

The disastrous unemployment of the prolonged depression of the 1930s was drastically reduced when the full resources of the nation were mobilized during the Second World War, especially after the anti-fascist enthusiasm of the working class to confront the worldwide axis of fascism and militarism exploded into action after the German Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. At that point, many workers, employed and unemployed, entered the armed forces lowering the rate of unemployment dramatically even requiring new female workers to be introduced widely as a social productive force. The extraordinary experience of the war proved that with the full mobilization of the nation’s resources the rate of unemployment can be brought down. However, the monopolies only identify a problem when their own private interests are threatened, as they were threatened by the monopolies of the fascist axis in the frenzied competition for global markets and raw material.

The problem facing the working class and progressive people is to fight for such a mobilization of the nation’s resources in peacetime, in a battle for social responsibility to uphold the human factor/social consciousness to provide work and a livelihood for everyone. It means confronting and restricting monopoly right because unemployment emerges from the very bowels of the monopoly capitalist system and modern mass production.

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