In a mini-climbdown, Ottawa will spare Canadian workers from new employment rules if they were already receiving benefits when the measures were introduced last August.
However, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is not making any other changes to her controversial Working While on Claim pilot project, which will apply to all new claimants who file an EI request after the introduction of the new measures on August 5. The announcement is designed to ease the transition for EI claimants to the new rules, but has only served to fuel opposition outrage.
The half measure prompted Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner to argue that the government is only "putting lipstick on a pig" and making no meaningful adjustment to the program.
The new policy was announced late on Friday, ahead of the Thanksgiving long weekend. Instead of imposing new rules on all EI recipients who work part time, the government is allowing people who were already on EI when the new rules were put into place to either opt into the new system, or stick with the old one.
"We have listened to those concerns and today I am announcing our intent to make adjustments to the new pilot program," Ms. Finley said in a news release.
The pilot project was one of the least controversial changes in the last federal budget, and actually won praise from the opposition when it was announced. However, seasonal workers and the opposition quickly figured out that the promise changes did not pan out as planned.
Before August, EI recipients could earn money through part-time work without having it clawed back as long as it wasn't more than 40 per cent of their benefits. Under the new rules, which apply to all new EI claims after August 5, half of every dollar earned is clawed back, and part-time work cannot exceed 90 per cent of weekly insurable earnings.
Ms. Finley has insisted that the changes will encourage more people to return to the work force.
"I can assure members that the vast majority of Canadians who are on EI, when they work part time, they will be better off," she said last month in the House of Commons.
The government has presented a series of scenarios in which claimants are better off under the proposed rules, but the opposition has called the figures unrealistic, given the federal government is assuming that recipients find part-time work at more than $20 an hour.