A Foodora courier is pictured as they pick up an order for delivery from a restaurant in Toronto, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Two-year EI review needed to buy time for needed tech upgrades, Qualtrough says

OTTAWA — Canada’s employment minister says a budgetary pledge for funding to study changes to the employment insurance system reflects realities that improvements to the safety net can’t happen overnight.

The federal budget proposed $648 million over seven years to fund a long-term technological upgrade to the EI system, the oldest portions of which rely on programming language from the 1960s.

At the same time, the budget sets aside $5 million over two years for a long-sought review of EI.

The timeline was disappointing to some who wanted a more immediate change to the decades-old system, but reflected the reality of how officials realized more time was required.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said there is a need to first update aging technological infrastructure before any changes to EI can take effect.

She also said the review will focus on thorny policy issues, with gig or self-employed workers being the thorniest of all.

“We can’t do everything at once,” she said in an interview, adding it’s not as simple as snapping her fingers to create a “utopian EI system.”

“There are all these other considerations that we have to take into account.”

The government has spent years trying to figure out how to adapt the EI program to modern realities with a rapid growth in the gig economy. There were about 1.7 million gig workers in 2016, a 70 per cent jump from a decade earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

An April 2018 presentation by Employment and Social Development Canada suggested preparing for labour force changes should consider a “large scale expansion of both labour market and social supports” and eligibility for benefits if the gig economy became the new normal.

It suggested officials start thinking about how to overhaul income support programs, including the “possibility of universal or means tested delivery scheme to guarantee (a) minimum standard of living.”

The drop of three million jobs last March and April threatened to overwhelm the EI system so much so that the government put it on hiatus and put unemployed Canadians onto a pandemic-aid program, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

But it also highlighted issues long known about the employment insurance system, including how not all workers can qualify for benefits, and more are blocked entirely.

“There is a lot of material out there. We’re going to build upon that, and really try and strike the balance between needing to engage and needing to act,” Qualtrough said.

She added consultations will focus on areas of disagreement between employers and worker groups, such as how to calculate premiums and benefits for gig workers, in addition to policy concerns about determining when someone needs aid, given that the nature of gig employment includes ups and downs.

Qualtrough said it isn’t a simple conversation or policy to provide a broader benefit to more workers in the country while maintaining some oversight to make sure help goes where it is needed.

“This challenge of unpacking the spectrum of types of work, and potentially getting out of that frame into one where no matter where you work or how you work, every hour of work is somehow — and it’s super challenging — accounted for in a way that you get credit towards some kind of employment insurance scheme,” she said.

“It’s really a difficult nut to crack.”

In tandem, Labour Minister Filomena Tassi has been speaking for months with platforms and their workers about what changes might be needed in federal labour rules to protect Uber drivers, for instance, while they are on the job.

She is set to meet with her provincial and territorial counterparts to talk about the rise in platform work among other issues facing the labour force.

The April 2018 presentation, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, also suggested officials “consider the value and feasibility of new legal protections to create (a) backstop on disruption,” outlining examples like a “bill of rights for human workers” and new rules on monetizing users’ data.

In a separate interview, Tassi said platform workers have told her they don’t want to lose the flexibility in their hours the work provides, but also want greater protections while on the job.

“We are going to attempt to achieve both things because we don’t want to take the benefits away from workers, but at the same time we have to ensure that there are those protections for workers.”

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

Dharmesh Goradia, and his daughter Vidhi and wife Chaitali, at the 2017 festival for the Godess Durga, held at the Golden Circle. (Photo contributed)
Draft curriculum misses the mark for central Alberta Hindu society

Meeting scheduled with Alberta Education officials

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Air Canada says it will recall more than 2,600 employees who were furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta’s tourism sector hurt by COVID-19 pandemic: ATB Financial

Between border closures, public health measures and hesitancy to travel, Alberta’s tourism… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a sign for a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, May 16, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada paid a premium to get doses from Pfizer earlier than planned

OTTAWA — Canada paid a premium to get more than 250,000 doses… Continue reading

The Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., is shown in this 1930 handout photo. HO — Deschatelets-NDC Archives
Calls grow for Ottawa to review settlement decisions for residential school survivors

Lawyer Teri Lynn Bougie still cries when she talks about the final… Continue reading

Syringes are readied at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, Friday, April 30, 2021 in Montreal. Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for Canada to donate some of its doses to other countries or international aid organizations and in at least three cases, for the doses to be resold.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada’s vaccine contracts allow for doses to be donated, in some cases resold

OTTAWA — Most of the federal contracts for COVID-19 vaccines allow for… Continue reading

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, responds to the report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Vancouver, on Monday June 3, 2019. As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Two sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

VANCOUVER — As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after… Continue reading

A woman sits and weeps at the scene of Sunday's hate-motivated vehicle attack in London, Ont. on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Four members of a family in London, Ont., are set to be buried today. The public has been invited to help celebrate the lives of Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins
Funeral to be held today for London family killed in attack

LONDON, Ont. — Four members of a Muslim family killed in what… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden listen to United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliver opening remarks at a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, United Kingdom Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to discuss foreign policy with G7 leaders at second day of summit meeting

CARBIS BAY, CORNWALL, ENGLAND — Foreign policy is on the agenda for… Continue reading

Most Read