Contract academic staff who use employment insurance benefits to bridge gaps between contracts will be significantly affected by sweeping changes to the program announced last month by federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.
The amendments mean claimants will be categorized according to how long they receive benefits and how often they make claims.
Reliance on EI by contract academics is common over the summer months, likely making them “frequent claimants” under the new rules, which means they will be required to accept suitable work in a “similar occupation” that pays at least 80 per cent of their previous earnings. After receiving benefits for six weeks, they will have to accept any work for which they are qualified and which pays at least 70 per cent of their previous salary.
This places even more strain on individuals who already work under less than ideal circumstances, says Leslie Jermyn, a York University anthropology professor and chair of CAUT’s contract academic staff committee.
“Sessional staff already work for less pay, often travel long distances to work, and don’t even have offices or filing cabinets supplied by their employer,” she said. “Of course they try their best to find work, but while many institutions have dramatically expanded summer programming, the fact is there isn’t as much work from May through August.”
The new requirement to accept “any” work after collecting six weeks of benefits means contract academic staff will have to take retail, food service or other jobs in their communities, Jermyn notes.
“They’ll have to be ticket-takers at Wonderland for the summer. Not to denigrate that job, but is this the best use of the most highly-educated Canadians who are already struggling just to cling to tenuous part-time careers as teachers and researchers?”
The proposed reforms are expected to take effect early 2013.
EI program staff will determinate what is suitable employment in individual cases, while so-called “integrity officers” will monitor job-search efforts and make determinations about whether the criteria are being met.
All EI recipients will be required to apply for positions, attend interviews, go to job fairs and workshops, and search for vacancies every day they receive benefits. They must also maintain a record of their activities, or risk being cut off from their benefits.