The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) has obtained new figures proving the backlog of Employment Insurance claims at Service Canada has risen to more than 253,700 by the end of March despite the government’s commitment last December to hiring an additional 400 employees to eliminate the backlog.
“Service Canada is supposed to guarantee that all Employment Insurance and disability claims are processed within 28 days. Some Canadians are waiting weeks, even months to receive their first cheque,” said Marco Angeli, National President of Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU), a component of PSAC. “This is a totally untenable situation. How are the unemployed supposed to feed their families, eat or pay the bills without any source of income?”
PSAC members work in Service Canada offices and staff the phone lines. They are the first point of contact when Canadians are trying to fill out an EI claim or finding out why their payments have been delayed.
“Some people are waiting on the phone for as long as three hours before they get to talk to one of our members — if they can get through,” said Angeli. “By the time they actually talk to someone, they are understandably frustrated, upset and desperate. The 1.8 billion taken out of the EI program by the Harper government in the April budget should have been used to hire people to process claims in a timely manner.”
“We know from our members that delays in EI processing can be as long as eight months, and the wait time for processing the Guaranteed Income Supplement can be up to six months. These are unemployed workers with no income, and seniors with income of less than $21,000 a year. This is not only unacceptable, it’s outrageous and wrong.”
The long delays at Service Canada compound the fact that the government has made EI more difficult for unemployed Canadians to access. It's been nearly 40 years since the last time such a small proportion of unemployed Canadians received EI benefits. In 2012, only 39 per cent of unemployed Canadians were regular EI beneficiaries. In 2013, that figure dropped to just under 37 per cent.
As part of negotiations with Treasury Board for the Program and Administrative Services (PA) group, PSAC is demanding that there be no further reduction in resources at Payment and Processing Services of Canada until an independent assessment can determine the impact resource cuts have had on the delivery of services and ability of the department to deliver its mandate.
“PSAC members work directly with the Canadian public and are just as frustrated about the Service Canada backlog as the people who are being forced to wait for weeks, if not months,” said Robyn Benson, National President of PSAC. “Our demand at the PA table is designed to ensure that all Canadians receive timely access to crucial public service.”