Beware the cracks
Marlene Giersdorf is the example of what may happen to some people under the new Employment Insurance regulations. The single mother staged a one-woman protest outside a Services Canada office in Prince Edward Island last week after being told her EI claim, which she filed in November, was being discontinued because she had refused to accept work.
It’s not that she didn’t want to work, she says, but that she can’t afford a car. She lives in Lower Montague.
The job Services Canada said she should take was in Charlottetown, a 50-minute drive from her hometown.
Without transportation – and with no public transit available between Montague and Charlottetown – the 30 year old says it was impossible for her to commute to Charlettetown.
Her story, reported in PEI’s daily paper The Guardian, noted that prior to filing for EI benefits she worked 60 hours a week in a community care facility and left work due to stress. Her former boss, she says, gave her a good reference.
By the time she got her first EI cheque in November, she had already been without income for two months.
Giersdorf told The Guardian that if she had a car she would gladly take a job in Charlettown. However, as the head of a one-income, single-parent family, she can’t afford a vehicle. And having had no income for nearly two months, she was down to her last $100. Buying a car was not a possibility.
Perhaps, if she was able to continue to collect EI benefits, she might have been able to get back on her feet financially, though she would still face a struggle given that the EI benefits are just a fraction of full-time wages.
According to Giersdorf, the folks at the Service Canada office advised that her only option was to apply to the provincial government for welfare. That suggestion, in itself, is a glaring example of how the EI rules won’t necessarily fix a problem and may, in fact, create more.
If Marlene Giersdorf is an example of how the new EI rules will be enforced, we are willing to bet there will be many people lining up for financial assistance from provincial social assistance departments.
Canada’s new EI regulations may work fine in densely populated regions, where subways and public transit options are available for low-income workers.
In rural areas, however, where people settled and managed on seasonal work, the geographical distance from the small town to the larger centre will be a tremendous challenge for many.
How many more will end up like Giersdorf, denied benefits because they don’t have a means of transportation to accept work?
The legal minds behind the EI changes likely never imagined how someone’s unique situation could affect their ability to seek employment beyond their community.
While we won’t argue that there are many people who do have the means to travel for work, and could take a paying job instead of relying on EI, it is a fact that there are some, like Giersdorf, for whom the new regulations will pose problems.
The EI rules, like any legislation, are open to interpretation, and legal challenge.
Sadly, those who will be most impacted - like Giersdorf -don’t have the means to engage lawyers to challenge Service Canada and their interpretation of the rules.
And that’s a point that the legal minds who created the one-size-fits-all rules are quite aware of.
What remains to be seen now is whether there will be a trickle, or a flood, of people seeking financial assistance from their provincial governments when they fall through the EI cracks; and whether provincial governments will ever challenge Ottawa on the faults within the new EI legislation.