The Employment Insurance (EI) is a leading insurance program that revamped the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program introduced in 1940. The EI reduces dependency on the state for income support. After being introduced in 1996, minor changes were done to the EI frequently. Earlier under UI, women’s jobs and unemployment risks were not covered or less covered. The EI focused mainly on women’s entitlement to increased maternity/parental benefits. The new Compassionate Care Benefit (CCB) benefits woman to provide end-of-life care to family members.
Introduction of EI and Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST) are interpreted as a measure to consolidate a neo-liberal welfare state. It is a kind of market approach to social issues. Earlier, the liberal welfare state was built around the male bread winner model. During that time, adult women benefited only through male earners in the family. The adult worker model expected caretakers to work more to meet the care needs. Women suffered the consequences because of this approach and it resulted in falling birth rates and stress-related productivity problems.
The EI addressed most of the issues concerning caretakers but then the 1996 EI reform hurt women more than men. Because, women were expected to meet the male norm to qualify for benefits and also the entrant/re-entrant (NERE) rules were tough on women. The motivation behind was to make people take any or all available work. Part-time workers and seasonal workers found it difficult to qualify for benefits. The self-employed – many women – were out of the system. The intention was to promote labor force attachment. Women workers in precarious jobs could not meet the NERE rules.
Employees with irregular jobs could not meet the average insurable earnings based on the last twenty-six weeks of work. This rule was later relaxed in high-unemployment regions. Employees with dependants in the family qualified for family supplement (FM). Women were expected to work for a minimum of 35 hours a week (to meet 700 hours in 20 weeks) to qualify for maternity/parental benefits. Many women failed to qualify. The requirements were later decreased to 600 hours and the NERE rules were adjusted. The maximum parental benefits were received by 93% of women recipients though it is gender neutral.
On the whole maternity/parental benefits are a positive measure liked by many. Compassionate Care Benefits (CCB) allows employees to take care of the gravely ill or dying child without putting their jobs or income at risk. 600 hours of insurable employment are needed to qualify for up to six weeks of compassionate Care Benefits. Here again, self-employed, part-time and non-standard work employees find it difficult to qualify. The state is more focused on resolving care giving issues. This created gender inequalities in insurance benefits.
Though changes are done to fine tune regular benefits and to give impetus to special benefits, women are benefited only if they are mothers. Since labor force attachment is vital to access parental benefits, some women are restricted from access to benefits due to inequalities in work pattern such as part time employment. Suggestions according to the author on areas where EI can be improved: 1) Women’s income security needs to serve by better progress 2) Implicit use of a male work norm in setting EI parameters to be addressed. 3) Care related work has to be free from NERE eligibility rules.
4) Part time worker should be made available for benefits based on their hours of work. 5) Minimum devisor should be dropped. Benefit formula should use the best X number of weeks for a longer time frame. 6) Self employed workers should be considered for both regular and special benefits. 1) What did you learn from this piece? The Canadian government initiated Unemployment Insurance (UI) in 1940. This was gender biased and did not cover women’s jobs and their unemployment risks. As a result women suffered the consequences for long. A major reformation on UI came in the form of Employment Insurance (EI) Act in 1996.
The EI was proposed to reduce the dependency of employees on the state for income. The gender biases and better access for women to the EI were addressed in the subsequent reforms of EI. Whenever there was a reformation of the EI, a particular group of employees were either not benefited or less benefited from the EI. For example, under UI, the EI maternity/parental benefits expected 700 hrs of work from an employee for 20 weeks. This criteria disqualified many women workers who worked less than 35 hours a week. Women who worked part time and women with children found it difficult to qualify.
The new entrant/re-entrant (NERE) requirements were stringent for women who had already taken maternity leave. Later, in the reform process, the government reduced the 700 hours to 600 and readjusted NERE rules. At regular intervals the government improvised on EI and UI policies thereby consolidating the neo-liberal welfare state. The crux of the matter is that the women employees who benefit from the changes are largely mothers. There are many women in precarious jobs, self employed and live in high unemployment areas without access to the benefits of EI.
The new programs of the state should try and bridge these gaps. 2) Is there anything in this writing that made you think differently? Explain. According to McKeen and Portar, the EI reforms are heading towards consolidating a neo-liberal welfare state. Well, this means that the state’s emphasis is on the primacy of market. It rewards ‘Good’ workers and punish ‘Bad’ workers. ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ alone do not determine the social well being. The prime concern is ‘Will the state insulate its economy from the globalization process?
Will it prevent people facing higher levels of unemployment and job insecurity? ’ If yes, the next step is to bring more EI reforms by securing women’s employment without getting mired in the globalization process. Yielding to the international competitiveness of the market will have repercussions on the society. 3) What is the most significant contribution of this writing? The author Martha MacDonald has clearly pictured how women employees were caught unawares in the midst of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) that was built on the male bread winner model.
The consequences led to falling birth rates and stress related productivity problems. Even the 1996 reforms of regular UI benefits hurt women more than men. Women had difficulty qualifying for new entrants/re-entrant (NERE) rules. The end of the 20th century has seen some good results in EI reforms by allowing women to have better access to EI benefits, however, the women who benefited are mothers than those in precarious jobs, self employed, part-time or seasonal workers and residing in high unemployment areas.
4) What is your ‘critique’ of this piece? “Procrastination is the thief of time” – Edward King The state waited all these years hesitating to bring quick reforms to allow women to have better access to EI benefits. As the author rightly says “The result was that the states broader social and economic feedback effects are now being manifested in falling birth rates and productivity problems. ” Besides explaining women’s poor access to EI, the author explains the gradual developments in the EI chronologically with reference citations to reputed authors.
As a scholarly piece of writing, “Income Security for Women: What about Employment Insurance? ” has all the influence to promote her suggestions on how women’s income security could be better served through new programs. This short piece is a wealth of information for anyone who wants to know the real scenario on Employment Insurance with regard to women employers and their income security. In other words, it is a pool of data, a healthy interpretation of EI developments, a logical conclusion through scholarly effort and fruitful ideas for a prospective EI reforms.
5) Questions for class discussions: i) Do you think the neo-liberal welfare state and the EI reforms can go hand in hand benefiting each other? Explain. ii) What will be your stance on the latest EI reforms? iii) Imagine that you have talents and resources to get self employed. Will you hesitate to become self employed because of the poor access to EI benefits? iv) Is there any woman in your family who faced difficulties due to poor access to UI? Share your experience.