Windsor EI Claims Workers Face Layoffs

Windsor EI claims workers face layoffs
Staff hired to handle jobless benefits

By Frances Willick
The Windsor Star
September 3, 2010

WINDSOR, Ont.—Hundreds of federal government workers responsible for processing employment insurance claims could soon be filing for EI themselves.

About 600 employees of Service Canada, including some Windsor workers, will be receiving pink slips, according to the union representing the employees.

“We're disgusted. We're absolutely disgusted,” said Steve McCuaig, national executive vice-president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

Under Ottawa's Economic Action Plan, about 3,200 temporary employees were hired at the outset of the economic downturn to deal with the anticipated influx of EI claims. The average number of claims is 2.6 million per year, but that number was expected to climb to 3.3 million this year.

McCuaig said the volume of claims is still much higher than usual, adding that employees were already swamped with a backlog of claims well before the recession hit.

The 600 job losses — including nearly 200 in Ontario — follow on the heels of another slash to the Service Canada ranks in May, when 600 workers lost their jobs. McCuaig said he anticipates another round of cuts in January.

Neither union representatives nor Service Canada officials could say exactly how many Windsor employees would lose their jobs.

Union officials said some employees who were hired prior to the addition of the 3,200 temporary workers have received pink slips, in violation of their collective agreement.

The union is concerned that the cuts will affect seniors and disabled citizens, who will have to wait longer to get their pension and disability claims processed.

McCuaig said he's puzzled that the government is slashing jobs when the economy clearly remains troubled. “(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper is still painting a gloomy picture in terms of the economy. They're still talking about recession, but here's (Human Resources Minister) Diane Finley saying these layoffs are a wonderful sign that the economy is getting better. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.”

A senior economist with the Conference Board of Canada called the cuts “ironic” in a city that continues to hemorrhage jobs.

But Robin Wiebe said he believes employment losses in the area have hit rock bottom and he expects to see modest growth in job opportunities in Windsor this year. “About one per cent, which is not gangbuster growth by any standard. But considering that the number of jobs has fallen in four of the last six years, some job growth is welcome.”

Of 27 Canadian cities tracked by the Conference Board of Canada, Windsor is expected to remain at the top of the list for unemployment rates this year. Wiebe said the city's predicted unemployment rate for 2010 is 12.2 percent — well above the second-ranking city of Sudbury, which has a predicted unemployment rate of 9.6 per cent.