Ottawa does not respond, Montreal yes


At the Unemployment Committee of Montreal, the telephone lines have not been running since last week. Left to their own devices, many people laid off because of the COVID-19 crisis no longer know where to turn.

For simple cases, online registration for Employment Insurance seems to work. But everything derails when the cases get a little complicated. Unable to speak to an Employment Insurance agent on the phone is blocking the progression of claims.

It must be said that the situation is unprecedented. Canadians filed nearly a million EI claims last week, unheard of in Canadian history.

Pierre Céré

Photo Jules Richer

Pierre Céré

The newspaper spent part of the day on Monday at the premises of the Montreal Unemployment Committee. The coordinator, Pierre Céré, and his colleague, Gabriel Pelletier, were overwhelmed with calls from new unemployed people who were unable to obtain information from Ottawa.

Gabriel Pelletier

Photo Jules Richer

Gabriel Pelletier

Here’s a look at what we heard. We have hidden the workers’ identities to protect the confidentiality of their cases.

Hope the money comes

“We had jobs, that was fine. Then, overnight, flang! ”

The man on the phone is worried. He worked in an insurance industry before being suddenly laid off two weeks ago due to the COVID-19 crisis.

He has completed his EI registration online, and would like to know when he will get his first payment to support his family.

“Normally, it’s three to four weeks,” replied Gabriel Pelletier.

But, as we are not in normal times, it is impossible to give an estimate.

So, he is told to hope that the money does not take too long to return.

Seasonal worker

The young man on the phone is a seasonal worker. He explains that he is employed in a municipality for much of the year and that he obtains unemployment benefits in winter.

This spring, the municipality does not seem to need its services. In fact, no one calls him back. He had to start again in April. His employment insurance benefits will then be exhausted. What to do ?

The Unemployment Committee explains that he will probably be eligible for the federal government’s emergency support allowance. But we are not sure. Program details will not be known until April.


The young woman on the phone is unlucky. She was scheduled to return to work last week, but her return was canceled due to the consequences of COVID-19. She had been unemployed since October.

Gabriel Pelletier ends up finding a solution. The woman, he discovered, has a severe form of asthma, which could make her vulnerable to COVID-19.

She could thus obtain an extension of her employment insurance benefits due to illness. But there is a catch; for this, she must speak to a real-life agent rather than over the internet.

The EI phone line has been busy for the past week.

A scan? Do not know !

The woman who calls is relieved. The test for COVID-19 she passed is negative. She probably has pneumonia.

Once healed, she will not be able to resume her job since she works in the restaurant business and has been laid off. However, to extend her sick leave, she must send her medical file to employment insurance.

But there is no question of scanning the document and sending it by email. In employment insurance, we have not yet arrived in the 21st century; he will have to send the document by post, he explains, with all the delays that this entails in these uncertain times.

Nothing easy …

The situation of this young traveler who calls seems very simple. He has just returned from a three-month trip to Asia and has therefore placed himself in voluntary isolation.

He had been eligible for employment insurance since November and his payments had been suspended because he was traveling. Gabriel Pelletier explains that it should be enough to communicate by telephone with an agent to reactivate his file.

But because of the congestion of the lines, his file remains in plan for the moment. And it is impossible to do this step by internet.

When the Committee does the work of Ottawa

Fortunately, the man on the phone contacted the Unemployment Committee. If he hadn’t done so, he could very well have missed an opportunity to have some temporary work.

The man worked at the reception of the goods in a shopping center. He was laid off at the end of last week. His wife, who has a job in a supermarket, immediately told him that his employer was looking for temporary staff.

The man was tempted by the idea.

“I’m not used to being in the house doing nothing,” he says. On the other hand, he feared losing his right to employment insurance benefits.

At the Unemployment Committee, he was reassured: he can accept a temporary part-time job and keep the right to his benefits. This information, the man, unfamiliar with the internet, could not have obtained it otherwise.

Into nothingness

On sick leave since early March, the woman on the phone has applied for EI sickness benefits.

At first glance, nothing is wrong with her file; she should be entitled to benefits. But, for an unexplained reason, Ottawa is unable to process her request, notes the woman by accessing her file on the internet.

Only one solution: contact an employment insurance agent to try to find the problem.

“Apart from continuing to call, there is nothing else to do,” said Gabriel Pelletier.

In the past few days, it has been impossible to The newspaper get the call to unemployment insurance numbers (in red), which are of crucial importance to applicants.

  • 1 833 381-2725: Line reserved for people affected in one way or another by COVID-19
  • 1 800 808-6352: General employment insurance number
  • 514-933-5915: Montreal Unemployment Committee

At the rate things are going, and the first checks should enter on April 6, the fund will very soon be in deficit.

According to our calculations, the 930,000 new claims submitted last week represent a weekly cost of approximately $ 500 million in benefits.

At the start of the year, the employment insurance fund had a surplus of $ 4.9 billion. Within three months, at the current rate, this surplus should therefore have evaporated, according to our estimates.

But the surge in demand is certainly not over. Their numbers are expected to continue to explode in the coming weeks due to the new business closings announced.

The surplus should then melt even faster. Once in deficit, the fund will have to be bailed out by the federal government.

– With Jean-François Gibeault

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