OTTAWA — Newly released figures show jobless Canadians are waiting days for answers to their employment insurance questions, and a month or more to find out if they are going to receive benefits.
The figures tabled in Parliament last week show 297,586 employment insurance applicants waited more than 28 days for a decision on their files between April 2015 and January of this year.
The average wait time was 39 days nationwide and in Alberta, which has been hard hit by the slumping price of oil.
Waiting to hear back from employment insurance processing agents was equally frustrating: The documents show agents returned calls within five days just under 60 per cent of the time.
The numbers also show that Canadians dialling into a federal call centre with employment insurance questions heard an automated high volume message almost 7.4 million times between April 2015 and January of this year.
Consequently, processing times and client services topped the categories for complaints lodged with the government.
The numbers were released in response to a written question from NDP employment critic Niki Ashton.
The figures are part of an ongoing trend of long wait times to speak with an agent at federal call centres, some of it attributed to an antiquated call centre system that Shared Services Canada, the government’s central information-technology department, is working to upgrade.
The government’s goal is to answer 80 per cent of calls within 10 minutes. Between April of last year and January of this year, the call centres met that service standard from a high of 64.3 per cent of time in June, to a low of 19.6 per cent in January.
Employment and Social Development Canada, which oversees the employment insurance program, is planning to spend $19.5 million on telephone services this year, and spend $18.9 million to expand services and answers available online.
Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said the government knows it has work to do on the employment insurance system and will have more to say on its plan soon.
“It’s our goal to provide services to Canadians that need help the most, when they need it. We know that is going to require improving the way we interact with Canadians, especially after years of front line service cuts by the previous government,” Mihychuk said in a statement.
“We have worked hard since our election to provide the best service possible to Canadians, and we know there is more we can do.”
Ashton said the numbers point to a need for more permanent employees at the call centres where one-third of workers are part-timers.
“The people that are meant to be handling these issues and working with the people that are distressed are completely overwhelmed,” she said.
“Some immediate action would be to staff these offices with people who are permanent employees who are supported in what they’re doing.”