Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 24, 2014 - 7:12 am

Zap! Ottawa toughens the rules for Iqaluit EI claimants

Iqaluit EI claimants will need more weeks of work to qualify for fewer weeks of benefits

DAVID MURPHY
Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for Employment and Social Development Canada, with Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq at a press conference held Feb, 22 in Iqaluit. As in earlier visits this week to Whitehorse and Yellowknife, Kenney announced changes to the way that Employment Insurance eligibility will be calculated for EI claimants living in the three territories. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)
Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for Employment and Social Development Canada, with Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq at a press conference held Feb, 22 in Iqaluit. As in earlier visits this week to Whitehorse and Yellowknife, Kenney announced changes to the way that Employment Insurance eligibility will be calculated for EI claimants living in the three territories. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

People in Iqaluit who lose their jobs might find it harder to qualify for Employment Insurance after changes to the program’s eligibility rules kick in this fall.

As of Oct. 12, 2014, Iqaluit EI claimants must work at least 700 hours — equivalent to about 20 weeks — within the previous 52 weeks to qualify.

Under the old rules, Iqaluit EI claimants needed only 420 hours of work, or about 12 weeks.

And the maximum length of time during which jobless Iqalummiut may collect EI will shrink from 45 to 36 weeks.

That’s because after Oct. 12, the three territories — for the purposes of calculating EI eligibility — will no longer be automatically deemed to have unemployment rates of 25 per cent.

“In Iqaluit, where the unemployment rate is five per cent, it’s ridiculous to pretend any longer that it’s at 25 per cent. It does not reflect reality,” Jason Kenney, the minister responsible for Employment and Social Development Canada, said Feb. 22 in Iqaluit

Kenney visited Iqaluit, where Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq accompanied him, as part of a pan-territorial campaign to explain how the new EI rules will affect northern claimants.

In most parts of Canada, the unemployment rate in the region where a EI claimant lives is used to calculate how many weeks they must work to qualify, and how long they’re allowed to receive benefits

But since the 1970s, a 25 per cent unemployment rate was automatically assumed for Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

For Nunavut, that will now change to a two-tier system: 5 per cent for Iqaluit and 13.1 per cent for the rest of Nunavut.

The 13.1 per cent unemployment rate is estimated within Statistics Canada’s latest labour force survey.

The 2011 National Household Survey produced higher jobless numbers: 17.9 per cent for Nunavut and 9.2 per cent for Iqaluit.

For his part, Kenney said the change “effectively means there will be no difference in rural Nunavut or outside Iqaluit.”

Kenney said it’s part of the government’s efforts to base EI eligibility on a real unemployment rate and not a “fictitious” rate.

And Kenney said it won’t be harder to qualify for EI in terms of the rules, but jobless EI claimants will have to work more weeks before they qualify for a cheque..

“So effectively, people in the future, in Iqaluit, if we have the current unemployment rate, would qualify for benefits after having worked for 20 weeks as opposed to 12 weeks,” he said.

Kenney said it’s part of the government’s efforts to base EI eligibility on a real unemployment rate and not a “fictitious” rate.

Kenney said the average unemployment rate calculations for Nunavut will change either on a 12-month rolling average, or a three-month average — whichever is higher.

Those averages will be based on Statistics Canada and Labour Force Survey data.

The same goes for Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

According to 2012 numbers from the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, the number of Nunavummiut receiving regular monthly employment insurance benefits hovered between 460 to 590 people in any given month.

And the average number of people employed in Nunavut in 2013 was estimated at 12,500 — up 700 from 2012.

The employment rate in Nunavut for 2013 was 57.5 per cent, also up from 1.8 per cent from 2012.

And although Inuit account for close to 80 per cent of the working-age population, the employment rate for Inuit was only 48.5 per cent. For non-Inuit, the employment rate was 89.3 per cent.

But federal government doesn’t “measure the unemployment rate based on ethnic or cultural status,” Kenney said.

Regardless, Kenney said many unemployed are not on EI, but on territorial income support.

Four in 10 Nunavummiut are on social assistance according to a November report prepared by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

Kenney also touted changes to Canada Job Grant training programs aimed at helping unemployed people gain new skills.

“We’ve got these big employment opportunities coming up, alongside hugely unemployed populations,” Kenney said.

Kenney also met with Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna to discuss funding for training programs and an agreement to support efforts aimed at job training for people with disabilities.

Kenney said the private sector has a pivotal role in providing skills and jobs to Nunavut because of upcoming infrastructure projects and mining developments.

“Employers realize increasingly in northern Canada that it is in their commercial interest to invest in those developments amongst aboriginal Canadians.”

An ESDC backgrounder said, “Nunavut’s economy is expected to outpace the rest of Canada’s by a substantial margin this year and next, with 3.7 per cent and 9.5 per cent growth respectively.”

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