Montreal — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive work disruptions and layoffs over the past year. As of May 2021, over 478,000 Canadians had been unemployed for more than six months. To help unemployed Canadians get back to full-time work, the federal government needs to make Employment Insurance work provisions more generous, say the authors of a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
The EI working-while-on-claim (WWC) provisions allow claimants to take a part-time or casual job while keeping a portion of their EI benefits. The provisions are meant to help claimants maintain their skills and network of contacts, demonstrate their commitment to work, and eventually get back to permanent employment.
“EI exists not only to provide income security in the event of a job loss, but also to help workers transition to new, permanent jobs,” notes Stéphanie Lluis, one of the study’s authors.
Lluis, along with co-authors Colin Busby and Brian McCall, review evidence from a series of federal government pilot projects between 2005 and 2018 to test the effects of WWC provisions that were made more generous. They found that EI claimants responded positively to the new rules: they were either more likely to take up part-time work or to work more hours.
Currently, about half of EI claimants make use of the WWC provisions. To encourage more EI claimants to do so, the authors recommend, among other things, that EI claimants be allowed to earn a modest weekly amount from part-time work without having their EI benefits clawed back. They also recommend making WWC provisions more generous during economic downturns, when part-time jobs tend to be more plentiful and accessible.
In addition, they recommend that policy-makers gather the data needed to provide a full picture of the users of WWC provisions and their employment outcomes. Research conducted in other countries that have similar working-while-on-claim rules, but collect more comprehensive data, has shown that claimants who take advantage of these rules are generally more likely to find permanent employment.
“Working-while-on-claim provisions help recently unemployed Canadians keep a foot in the job market and can provide a stepping stone to permanent employment, but they need to be improved to help more Canadians transition back to work,” conclude the authors.
Transitioning Back to Work: How to Improve the EI Working-While-on-Claim Provisions, Colin Busby, Stéphanie Lluis, and Brian McCall, can be downloaded from the IRPP’s website (irpp.org).
The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.
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