Buried in Harper’s omnibus budget are E.I. changes targeting some of the most vulnerable workers–including migrant and unemployed workers–to create downward pressure on the wages of all workers. Last year, the federal government announced the closure of more than 80 percent of E.I processing centres and the elimination of hundreds of associated jobs. As a result, there is now a backlog of over 80,000 claims.
Now Harper is imposing stricter job search requirements for unemployed workers with penalties for those who do not accept available work, irrespective of the worker’s skills or residence. Unemployed Canadian workers may also be required to accept jobs posted through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which have been approved to pay 15 percent less than the average wage for a given occupation. There is no doubt that forcing workers without jobs into these occupations is intended to give employers an incentive to lay-off workers in decently paid jobs and hire (or re-hire) employees at lower wages, either through the TFWP or through E.I. claimant harassment.
In the meantime, the Mowat Centre continues to peddle its vision for a repayable Jobseekers Loan Scheme, administered through the tax system, in which workers may borrow money to tie them over during periods of un-employment and under-employment. Repayment of this user-funded program would intensify the hardship of those already marginalized in the economy.