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Mark Crawford, welcomes the new changes but believes more needs to be done. Photo By Michael Joel-Hansen

The Prime Minster's Office is directing the new minister of employment and labour to improve the country’s Employment Insurance system. The Liberal government plans to repeal some of the recent changes made by the past government and to reduce premiums.

The changes are welcomed by Mark Crawford, a member of Carpenters Union Local 1985, who has experience helping people navigate the EI system. Crawford favours the plan to eliminate the variation of hours needed to qualify for benefits. According to Crawford the current system punishes people who have been out of the workforce through no fault of their own as well as younger workers. Crawford said he is also happy to see plans to reduce the waiting period for benefits from two weeks to one.

Crawford does see need for improvement. One area which stands out is the appeals process, which Crawford said can drag out for as long as six months.

Crawford said the appeals process is not as localized as it used to be. In the past, there were local appeal boards comprised of a chairperson, one person nominated by employers, and one person nominated by employees. Crawford said this process has been replaced by an appeals system called “the social security tribunal, which is an appeals system administered by Ottawa, which is made up of a single person.”

With no commitment for change on this front, “we’ll have to deal with the (appeals) system as it is now,” he said.

Crawford also sees a need to address “service issues” at Service Canada, which is charged with administering Employment Insurance benefits. Crawford said that the past three to four years have been the worst he’s seen in 21 years of dealing with EI system.

“They are going to have to hire,” he said, adding that the centralization of services has been detrimental to the EI program. Prior to the centralization of these services “you could go into an office and speak to the person handling your file,” Crawford said.    

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich concurs with much of what Crawford said. When asked what he thinks of the government’s commitment to “repeal recent changes,” Hubich called the commitment “pretty general,”  noting the past government had “clawed back EI quite a bit.”

Hubich says he would like to see the government expand EI benefits for an extra five weeks. Hubich also said the SFL would also like to see the number of hours needed to qualify for EI reduced from the current 920. According to Hubich this high number of hours penalizes people in certain industries such as service and retail, where many work part time.

Hubich said the SFL would also like to see more staff hired at EI offices to provide better service. Regarding the appeals process, Hubich said that it needs to “localized more” than it is currently.