Risks to service for Canadians who need Employment Insurance – has the Minister thought it through?

Ted Hsu
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UPDATE: I’ve been told by Service Canada that, in Kingston and the Islands, two people’s jobs (supporting the Employment Insurance Board of Referees which are being eliminated in favour of a much smaller tribunal) are being eliminated. Another person working with EI Investigations is being transferred. The biggest group is 35 people working in processing EI cases. They have received general affected letters which means that their “services may not longer be required due to the impacts of Service Canada’s Business Transformation”. There is no deadline, but the intent is to phase out positions in Kingston in favour of other hubs such as the new one in North Bay. I’ve also been told by a union representative that four positions handling mail have been moved outside the riding.
The upshot is that the 35 EI casework employees have a bit of a reprieve compared to the situation when I met with CEIU Local 620 members in late May. I’ll continue to dig for information about the government’s plans and how they might impact the quality of service we receive.
A letter to the Editor, submitted on June 27, 2012
Apparently, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development has decided to move Employment Insurance claims processing jobs from Kingston and elsewhere to a yet-to-be-created office in North Bay. Will this decision trigger another crisis in service to people who need to claim EI?
The following factors make it a very risky move:

1. Clients and MPs’ offices across the country have noticed continued delays in EI claims processing compared to past standards.

2. Caseworkers all report working on cases that are over 100 days old. After such a delay clients have usually started to receive welfare payments from the provincial government as a result, which is a cost to the provincial government, and results in needless paperwork.

3. Staff are being cut as a result of overall budget cutbacks.

4  It seems that the move to more online processing and automation has not yet improved service.

5. The government’s elimination of the Community Access Program will reduce the ability of some clients to go online.

6. Scrapping the Employment Insurance Review Boards increases pressure on the staff to avoid mistakes in claims processing. In the future, appeals will receive much less attention.

7. Changing EI rules will mean a learning curve and new responsibilities for HR&SD ministry staff.

In the face of these factors, the HR&SD minister’s decision to close the Kingston EI Processing Office (an office that, until last summer, was expanding and designated as a processing hub), establish a new office in North Bay, move workers there, or hire and train new workers, seems like an unnecessary expense and an operational risk.

Unemployed workers would rather have good jobs than apply for EI. Often through no fault of their own, they are forced to seek this temporary help to feed and house themselves and their families. It is cruel and heartless for the government to risk additional delays in processing and increase the likelihood of mistakes for EI recipients who are already facing a very difficult time in their lives.

The government is supposed to be serving people’s dire needs in this situation, not just playing a game of bureaucratic musical chairs. I call on the Minister to make public the financial and risk management rationale behind her decision.