Women shut out of Employment Insurance: Study

November 22, 2007

TORONTO – Most women are getting shut out of Employment Insurance (EI) coverage in Canada, says a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The gap between men's and women’s EI coverage is significant: 40 percent of unemployed men received EI benefits in 2004 while only 32 percent of unemployed women did.

“Essentially, two in every three working women who pay into EI don’t receive a single penny in benefits if they lose their jobs,” says CCPA Research Associate Monica Townson, who co-authored Women and The Employment Insurance Program with Kevin Hayes.

The study shows the likelihood of most women ever receiving unemployment benefits is slim. The key reason: the program doesn’t recognize that women have different patterns of paid work than men -- because of their family responsibilities.

“Most women can’t work long hours, even when they have full-time jobs,” says Townson. “Women who have spent years in the paid work force can't get benefits unless they have been employed in the most recent 52 weeks. And if they leave a job to care for their families, they can't qualify for EI anymore."

The study found a number of changes to EI in 1996 helped increase the gap between men’s and women’s EI coverage, but the current work hours/weeks required to qualify have been the biggest barrier to women securing benefits.

The authors recommend the federal government make 360 hours the new magic number for qualifying for EI. Workers could qualify for benefits if they work 360 hours within 12 months or if they averaged 360 hours a year in three of the five years before they apply for EI. The new 360 hour rule would apply to workers seeking all categories of benefits: regular, work-sharing, maternity, parental, sickness, compassionate care and training.

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For more information, please contact: Trish Hennessy, 416-263-9896.