Community members gather at EI forums

Over one hundred people attended the Employment Insurance (EI) forums in Winnipeg on September 6 and Brandon on September 5, 2012.

(From left) Susan Norman, Kevin Rebeck, Kelly Moist, Neil Cohen and John Doyle

Over one hundred people attended the Employment Insurance (EI) forums in Winnipeg on September 6 and Brandon on September 5, 2012.

Kelly Moist, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Manitoba President and organizer of the EI forums, opened the evening by stressing that solidarity from the labour perspective has never been so important. She also underlined the importance of talking to each other about issues like these.

CUPE Manitoba Regional Director Bill Sumerlus discussed the CUPE public campaign opposing the Conservatives plan to dismantle the current EI program. Sumerlus believes this is an ideologically driven move by this government.

“This is not a social program, it’s an insurance paid for by workers,” he explained.  “We need to let our voice be heard. This isn’t right and shouldn’t happen!”

Kevin Rebeck, Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) President, spoke about the online e-mail action on the MFL website calling on this government to restore the integrity of our Employment Insurance system.

“Take part in this action,” he emphasized. “We need to put the pressure on our MPs and let them know that a lot of people care.”

Susan Norman, National Vice-President for Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU) Manitoba, outlined the cuts including closing EI processing and the call centre in Manitoba, and cutting more than 1,500 positions across the country. She said the cuts affect services Canadians receive.

“Our members know the clients and their specific needs based on their situation or location,” she said. “That personal service for Manitoba is now gone.”

John Doyle, MFL Research and Communications Coordinator, spoke about the roles and responsibilities of the Employment Insurance Board of Referees and the EI appeals system, before Neil Cohen, Executive Director of the Community Unemployed Help Centre (CUHC), concluded the presentation portion of the evening.

Cohen indicated that labour played a critical role in the creation of CUHC and is still heavily involved today. He called EI the “cornerstone” of Canada’s social programs and referred to it as a “social insurance plan” – different from “insurance plan” in that it changes social realities.

“Harper is fundamentally altering the fabric of this country by reversing 70 years of history with the change to EI appeal,” he explained. “This government is hell bent on destroying this program – one we value and really depend upon a great deal.”

Cohen explained that the changes would likely mean shorter appeal hearings and a more difficult appeal process. Today, less than 40 per cent of unemployed workers are actually receiving EI benefits.