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The Globe and Mail

Eligibility rate for EI falls to near 10-year low

File photo of seasonal workers at a daffodil farm near Victoria.

Don Denton/The Globe and Mail

Fewer Canadians are eligible for jobless benefits because they're not getting enough hours to qualify.

The rate of eligibility for employment insurance hit its lowest level in nearly a decade last year, partly because more people worked in temporary jobs that didn't give them enough hours to qualify, a Statistics Canada survey noted Monday.

To be eligible for benefits, unemployed people must qualify on several fronts: they must have contributed to the EI program, met the criteria for job separation, and worked enough insurable hours.

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The latter stipulation is rendering many people ineligible. All told, 78.4 per cent of people who fit the first two criteria had worked enough hours to qualify for employment insurance – the lowest rate since 2003, the earliest year for which comparable data are available.

A key reason for the drop was a shift in the type of jobs held by contributors to EI. The share of these contributors who last worked in a permanent, full-time job – positions that typically generate enough hours to qualify for EI – fell to 45 per cent last year from 51 per cent in 2010.

At the same time, a growing share last worked in temporary, non-seasonal work, where one generally accumulates fewer hours, the agency said.

The drop was most notable among people aged 25 to 44 and women of all ages, the agency said.

Two factors explain the slide in eligibility among core-aged workers, Statscan's analysis shows. First, this age group was less likely to have last worked in a permanent, full-time job last year than in the prior year, and more likely to have worked in temp jobs. Second, the average number of hours these contributors got in temp jobs fell to 640 hours last year from 840 hours in 2010.

The report comes as the federal government is in the midst of reforming Canada's EI system.

The Conservative government's first budget bill this year outlined plans to reform EI. Some of the measures, like changes to the Working While on Claim provisions, were launched over the summer and have since been revised in response to complaints from some claimants who say the new rules will leave them worse off. Further changes that will update the government's expectations for EI claimants in terms of the available jobs they should be willing to accept. Those changes are expected to be detailed via new regulations later this year.

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With a file from Bill Curry in Ottawa

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