Sweeping changes to employment insurance

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OTTAWA – EI, EI, ouch!

A sweeping reconstruction of the pogey system announced Thursday means Canadians would have to drop the remote, hop off the couch and into a job or risk losing their Employment Insurance.

And to help Canadians, the government will blast them with twice-daily job alerts and rewrite regulations to force EI recipients to find work faster at a lower wage.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the changes would require users of EI to broaden their job searches, but won’t force professionals into menial jobs.

Employers would also be required to consider a Canadian over a temporary foreign worker for some of the 250,000 jobs that go unfilled annually.

"These changes are not about forcing people to accept work outside their own area, or taking jobs for which they are not suited," Finley said at news conference.

Under the changes, job-seekers would not have to commute more than an hour to take a job unless they live in cities like Toronto, where commutes are longer.

The new rules put tougher conditions on people with three or more EI claims in the past five years, or who have collected EI for more than 60 weeks in the past five years, the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation (CTF) said.

"These new rules should help push people off of a pogey lifestyle and into steadier jobs," CTF national director Gregory Thomas said.

Seasonal workers such as fishermen would be considered frequent claimants and would be required to accept any work they are qualified for after collecting EI for seven weeks. On-the-job training would be provided if required.

They would also have to accept wages starting at 70% of their previous salary, compared to long-tenured workers and occasional claimants who collect EI less frequently and would be given more time to find work.

Opposition MPs panned the new rules scheduled for 2013.

"The changes will mean fewer people than ever will qualify for EI, more forced into lower wage jobs and others thrown onto provincial welfare," NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said.