OTTAWA — The Conseil du patronat du Québec (CPQ) “denies its signature” of a long-negotiated joint declaration in its brief tabled last week in Ottawa for the purposes of consultations on the reform of employment insurance, is scandalized the National Council of the unemployed (CNC).
“What is the signature affixed by the president of the Conseil du patronat worth? (…) Does this confirm the prejudices that many have about employers to the effect that the word given, sometimes, is not worth much, that we cannot trust the bosses”, asked Pierre Céré, the spokesperson for the CNC, in an interview with The Canadian Press.
The association for the defense of the rights of the unemployed finds it difficult to understand why the group which represents more than 70,000 employers is basically demanding the status quo on eligibility, that is the number of hours of employment which must have been worked according to the region’s unemployment rate, the maximum insurable earnings currently set at $60,300, the replacement rate at 55% and the duration of benefits.
In a letter to Federal Minister of Employment, Carla Qualtrough, co-signed by Mr. Céré and CPQ President and CEO, Karl Blackburn, at the end of March, it is written that “workers must to be able to count on a social safety net which provides them with better protection during a period of unemployment” and that the conditions of eligibility for the program must be relaxed and simplified “in order to increase accessibility and coverage and, in general, to improve the protections that are provided”.
According to Mr. Céré, the Employers’ Council was probably “brought to order” by other employers’ associations following the publication of this “progressive” statement which, moreover, “for two months” been “maturely studied, maturely thought out”.
From the Conseil du patronat’s point of view, it is essential to maintain the “work incentive”. In other words, the program must make sure to “promote the rapid return to the labor market of workers,” said Mr. Blackburn. The amount currently paid to an unemployed person is “sufficient to ensure a decent income”, says one in the memorandum.
Speaking of which, would Mr. Blackburn be comfortable living for a few months on the equivalent of an annual salary of $33,165 before taxes – the maximum – if he loses his job as CEO of the Conseil du patronat? The amounts paid by employment insurance are “not necessarily very interesting,” he acknowledged lip service, avoiding the question, despite the fact that it was pointed out that his brief calls for moving from theory to practice.
For Mr. Céré, the idea that the unemployed do not want to return to work “is based on a prejudice”. Society understands that “we don’t build our lives on an unemployment check” and that would lead to “poverty”.
According to the employers, the changes to the plan must be accompanied by a “cost analysis” which makes it possible not only to assess the consequences on the financing of the plan and on contributions, but also on the competitiveness of companies and economic growth.
They claim that they do not have “the means” to assume the cost increases that would be caused by “overly generous flexibility” in the employment insurance system, point out in passing that their contribution rate will increase by 35% between 2022 and 2029 and that companies are already “weakened by steep wage increases due to inflation, the effects of the pandemic and the scarcity of labour”.
The unemployed and employers agree on at least one more point: the federal government should start contributing to the employment insurance fund again.
Employment insurance should not be “a catch-all for social programs”, believes the CPQ, which proposes that the Trudeau government, if it still wants to improve benefits and create new ones, contribute up to 20% of the costs and that employees and employers share the balance equally. Currently, employees pay about 42% of the bill and employers 58%.
Self-employed workers and continuing education
In their election platform, the Justin Trudeau Liberals promised last year to create a new employment insurance benefit for the self-employed to provide assistance comparable to that enjoyed by employees and to launch the benefit in January 2023.
For the Conseil du patronat, such a program should be “established and financed outside the employment insurance program”. The group argues that it would be difficult to determine and verify that the disruption of the income of such a worker is truly beyond his control.
However, the declaration co-signed between the CPQ and the CNC went “very clearly” in the sense that this must be part of the current program, believes Pierre Céré. In any case, he says, Canada is not going to “break the house” with such a benefit since “there are 50 other countries” which have it.
The CEO of the Conseil du patronat affirmed in an interview that it is “essential and essential” that employment insurance adopt a continuing education program where the unemployed “are obliged to do training (…) otherwise they could be penalized for their performance”.
The memorandum specifies that employers would “not necessarily be resistant” to an increase in benefits and their duration if employment insurance includes an “incentive” to take training or to finance the training efforts of companies.
This training must be “voluntary”, dropped Pierre Céré, after having described how he negotiated the addition of this word – which is indeed in the declaration – and the withdrawal of the obligation.
“There too they deny directly, clearly, their signature, he offered. Me, when I sign something, when I give my word, there is just one word.”
The Employers’ Council declined to comment on the accusations made by the National Council of the Unemployed.