The world wide economic meltdown has left countless technology professionals uncertain about their future and as Canadian IT workers count the number of tech firms shutting down or laying off employees the country's once vaunted employment insurance (EI) benefits offers very little reassurance.
Years of cutbacks have left very little by way of what laid off workers can receive from the benefit and accessing the money has become doubly hard, according to labour groups and employment law experts.
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"The maximum amount that individuals are entitled to right now is only $450 a week. But even at that, regulations make it harder for people to qualify for the benefit or access the funds," according to Allison Dubarry, an IT analyst with the University of Toronto and president of the Steelworkers Union Local 1998 at the university.
Dubarry, an SAP developer, was among the many IT workers of the 6,000-member Local 1998 who took part in a rally this week held by the Good Jobs for All Coalition.
The alliance of more than 35 community, labour and student groups throughout the Greater Toronto Area picketed the Employment Insurance office in Scarborough, Toronto and demanded immediate EI reforms in the wake of increasing job losses in the province.
Ottawa recently announced that it was bumping up the period in which unemployed workers can receive EI by five extra weeks to a make it a maximum of 50 weeks. Under the proposed changes a wage-earner protection program will also ensure workers losing their jobs because of a bankruptcy will get some money owed to them by their company. The move is expected to cost $1.2 billion.
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"This will give EI recipients more time to get the extra training they need to find the right job," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said.
But these moves fall short, according to workers.
"Extending the benefits period for the few who already qualify is insufficient," said Wayne Fraser, director of the Ontario and Atlantic Canada United Steelworkers.
He said Parliament should make more people eligible by setting qualifying hours at 360 and restoring benefits to at least 60 per cent of an individuals best 12 weeks of earnings.