In the spring of 2017, the federal government hired a company called KPMG to review the way that the appeals process works around Employment Insurance (EI) decisions. KPMG reported last week to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development on its findings and recommendations, but the report is not yet public.
Over 30 organizations from across Canada, including ISAC, have endorsed an Open Letter calling on the Government of Canada to restore fairness to the Employment Insurance (EI) appeal process. You can read the letter in French and English here.
What are the problems with the EI appeal process?
Employment Insurance is an essential program for making sure workers can continue to provide for themselves and their families when they lose their jobs. If their applications for benefits are turned down, workers must have access to a fast and easy way to have the decision reviewed, so that they aren’t forced to go into debt or rely on social assistance while they wait.
Before 2013, the appeal process was fast and simple. Appeals could be heard within weeks at the Board of Referees, where cases were heard by three people: representatives for workers, employers and the community. A worker who was dissatisfied with the result could then appeal to an “Umpire.”
In 2013, the Social Security Tribunal was introduced under the guise of generating savings. It hears appeals about several very different programs: Employment Insurance, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan. It was supposed to streamline the process and lead to faster and better decisions.
After four years, it is clear that the new process isn’t working:
- The time required for decisions to be made has quadrupled
- Costs have skyrocketed
- Appeals that used to give people the right to tell their story to a representative body in a community-based, receptive setting are now handled by a single-person who typically hears and establishes their credibility over the telephone.
- An overly complex process has been created that requires appellants to have a high level of literacy and legal expertise
- The lack of transparency in the operation and performance of the Social Security Tribunal eliminates any accountability to the employers and workers who fund Employment Insurance
- A newly mandatory “reconsideration” step has created a time-consuming and unnecessary hurdle that adds a full month to the appeal process
- The process is riddled with unfairness. For example, workers don’t know what they are appealing until after they have appealed because they don’t get a copy of their file until much later in the process.
The needless complexity of the process is a problem for everyone, but particularly for persons with disabilities and language barriers and those without very strong computer and Internet skills.
What are the solutions?
The organizations that endorsed the open letter are calling for an overhaul of the entire appeals system to ensure the basic protections that EI is meant to provide:
- Reinstate the important historical role of labour and employer representatives in the appeal process, including returning to the three-member panels that were so key to the success of the Board of Referees. Create mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability to the workers and employers who fund the system.
- Reduce the time it takes to get a decision. Because the process serves people who have lost their jobs, the time it takes to get to a decision should be short. In addition to properly resourcing the appeal process, unnecessary procedural steps should be eliminated. The Reconsideration step should be optional, and the “summary dismissal” power and requirement to seek leave to appeal to the Appeal Division should be removed altogether.
- Ensure a fair and just process, with decisions that are publicly available. Part of a fair process includes ensuring all appellants get copies of their files early in the process and are entitled to a hearing in the format of their choice, whether it be by telephone, by video or in person.
- Make the process accessible to all. The recourse and appeal process must be accessible to individuals who do not have a lawyer. Accessibility also means ensuring that barriers arising from disability and language are eliminated, and that all appellants have access to the supports they need to navigate the appeal process.
What can you do?
If you agree, let Minister Duclos know that you support the Open Letter’s demands. He can be reached at:
Minister Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of Parliament.