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New EI rules could force unemployed into jobs they don't want

Conservative legislation restricting access to EI benefits risks forcing people into jobs they don't want, but a national business group says employers will accept those headaches if it means fewer labour shortages.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is praising measures contained in the federal budget implementation bill that removes long-standing legal reasons for Canadians on Employment Insurance to reject certain jobs.

"We think it's completely appropriate for government to give employees a bit of a nudge to get back into the labour force," said Dan Kelly, the CFIB's vice-president of legislative affairs.

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The government's sweeping budget implementation bill contains changes to EI that have never been formally announced or explained by the government. The budget bill would remove provisions of the Employment Insurance Act that allow EI recipients to turn down an available job if it is not in the claimant's usual occupation, is at a lower rate of pay or involves "conditions less favourable than those … recognized by good employers."

A spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said Thursday these conditions are being moved "from legislation to regulation." That means cabinet can define the rules later without parliamentary approval.

Debate over the 425-page budget bill heated up Thursday after the government passed a motion to limit House of Commons debate on the measures.

The motion, which the Conservative majority passed easily in a 145-122 vote, limits second reading of the bill to six more days before it is sent to the House of Commons finance committee for further study.

The opposition want the bill split into several parts because of its size. The government says it will allow the environmental components of the bill to be studied by MPs on a special subcommittee of the finance committee.

Throughout the day, opposition MPs hurled epithets at the government benches over a budget bill that was varyingly described as bizarre, ominous, cowardly and "the worst."

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan defended the time limit and said this budget bill will still be debated for more days than any other over the past two decades.

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"We wanted to ensure that we do get to a decision because it's an important bill for Canada's economy," he said.

Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said if concern over skills shortages is driving the changes to EI, he predicts the situation will actually be made worse. He said if skilled unemployed workers like welders are forced to take unskilled labour for less pay, it risks removing that skill from the labour force over the long term.

Mr. Ryan said the EI changes should be considered in tandem with the recent changes to speed up approvals of temporary foreign workers who can be paid 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage.

"I don't believe it's about matching people with skills," he said. "I believe it's more about a downward pressure on wages. This government is essentially saying unless Canadians lower their standard of living and lower their wage demands, we won't be able to compete with China and places like that."

NDP MP Yvon Godin predicted the changes to EI may not prove to be the gift to employers that it appears. "I would not like to be the employer who receives employees who don't want to work for me," he said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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