Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

EI appeals to take longer: advocate

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MANITOBANS who want to appeal employment insurance and Canada Pension Plan benefits will face longer delays under a new single appeal tribunal.

Neil Cohen, executive director of Winnipeg's Community Unemployed Help Centre, said it takes a claimant about six months to get a hearing under the existing appeal process, in which EI and CPP appeals are dealt with separately.

He said Ottawa's plan to combine existing appeals bodies into a single social security tribunal will likely discourage people from appealing.

"This is just going to make worse an already intolerable system," Cohen said. "We see this over and over again. Democracy is really being undermined."

The Harper government released details of the changes this week, including its plan to rejig the employment insurance program to link benefits to regional labour-market conditions.

The federal changes will also give cabinet the power to define what is considered "suitable employment," which could affect whether a person qualifies for EI and the benefits they are paid. The government believes the measures will reduce disincentives to accepting all available work prior to applying for EI benefits.

"It's workfare," Cohen said, adding the changes will mean more political control over a system that's already backlogged because of federal cuts.

He also said the changes, which are to roll out over the next year, will see even more Manitobans applying for provincial welfare because EI claims won't be processed fast enough. More Manitobans collect welfare despite the province having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, recent provincial numbers say.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2012 A9

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