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          Employment Insurance Changes Welcome, but Must Be Made Permanent - Steelworkers
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          BURNABY, British Columbia (News release) -- The United Steelworkers (USW), representing more than 14,000 workers in the forestry sector, are welcoming recent changes to Employment Insurance (EI) that will make it easier for workers to access benefits - at least in the short term.

          "Our members have literally been short-changed by rules that deny them access to EI even after many years of service and paying into the program," says Jeff Bromley, chair of the USW Wood Council. The Wood Council represents workers employed mainly in logging and sawmilling across Canada.

          Forestry workers have lobbied federal politicians for months during the COVID crisis, and welcome interim orders that ensure workers will not be held back from EI benefits if they receive negotiated severance packages or have outstanding vacation when they are laid off. An earlier interim order also reduces the number of eligible hours workers must have before making an EI claim. This is particularly problematic when workers are in a cycle of multiple rounds of layoffs.

          "These are all one-time or temporary access changes to the Employment Insurance Act," said Bromley. "We believe they must become permanent in order to respond to our industry and to the increasingly uncertain future of employment security in 21st century Canada."

          Bromley said enhanced negotiated severance packages were never meant to prevent access to EI benefits. As well, he said workers should not be penalized for not having used up their vacation allotment prior to being laid off.

          "Collective agreements are intended to be better than minimum rights established in employment standards legislation," Bromley said. "Workers and their communities must not be held hostage to laws that, instead of assisting them in tough times, punish them for doing an honest day's work."

          Bromley said the announced access to EI under the current interim orders must be established as a permanent standard in EI legislation.

          "Canadians need to know they are protected, pandemic or no pandemic. EI rules that do not do so on a permanent basis are not worth the paper they are written on."

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