COLUMN: Robson – Pogey rules make steady workers subsidize everyone else

- May 28th, 2012

EI rips off steady workers

by John Robson

The recent modest reforms to Employment Insurance are in fact far too modest. Even so, they may force the Opposition’s brains to get off the couch and find real work.

Take Elizabeth May… please. Her whiny blast contained so many obvious blunders it was basically a gift to Stephen Harper.

She admitted she used to collect EI, working at her family’s Cape Breton restaurant and gift shop that typically shut after Thanksgiving until Victoria Day, then sucking down pogey all winter.

But she claimed she wasn’t on the dole, saying “I paid into Employment Insurance. When I needed it, I used it. When I didn’t, I didn’t… I don’t think anyone should be ashamed that seasonal businesses in this country that are big, or small, have benefitted from a legal system of insurance that pays for itself.”

The effort to “destigmatize” living at others’ expense is very post-modern. Though not as much as her “I’m coming out myself and saying this was my life. If you want to say this is a wrong way to live, fine.”

Coming out? Please. And it’s not about what I want to say is wrong. It’s about what actually is wrong. Like her defence of EI, which is wrong factually and morally.

First, EI amounts to living at other people’s expense. She denied this obvious truth, saying her family business paid more in taxes than staff claimed in EI. But taxes cover more than EI, as she must know. If the business did not pay as much in EI premiums as staff collected in benefits, it was being subsidized.

Second, the very name EI is dishonest.

Like real insurance, EI as a whole covers its costs. But while real insurance pools risk among voluntary policy-holders, EI transfers income through state compulsion from the steadily employed to the intermittently employed. And it gives the largest rewards to those who most effectively “game” the system, working just long enough to maximize their payout. Which is not, I hardly need say, behaviour or an attitude we want to encourage.

Real insurance protects you against events that are extremely rare and catastrophic, like your house burning down. And your premiums are carefully calculated to go up, or down, as your risk does.

You can’t insure yourself against common things like dental checkups because the premiums would equal the cost of the treatment. And you can’t insure yourself against things you do to yourself because that’s fraud. Which is why if EI was real insurance it wouldn’t exist: The only people who could afford it would be those who didn’t need it.

Imagine what premiums a person would have to pay who was routinely unemployed from November through May and wanted to collect half their salary without working for half the year. Right. Half their salary.

Now imagine what a person would have to pay who worked steadily for 20 years in an insurance office or driving a truck. Right. Virtually nothing.

The real situation is the opposite. EI is a ripoff of the steady worker disguised as social justice. And it’s doubly wrong to live that way.

Ms. May got one thing right: Much Canadian industry is structured around seasonal work thanks to EI and corporations as well as workers profit. But it’s still a ripoff even if companies take part. And there’s a reason that sort of thing carries a stigma.

Ms. May will never convince the average working Canadian not to resent people who milk EI, or pity them for having to get off the couch, turn off the TV and go get a job less than an hour away that pays almost three quarters of what they wish they still got.

So thanks for coming out. Now go away.

Categories: Contributor Columns

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2 comments

  1. Thomas_L...... says:

    Even goverment agencies, like the one I am employed with, have used EI to subsidize their budget(s). Over the years, unexpected changes to the routine (third party strikes and other temporary interruptions of work) have given them an excuse to lay off full time (non-seasonal) workers who’s salaries are budgeted. Unless that money saved on unpaid wages is returned to the federal coffers, that is gaming the system, as well.

  2. Nola Bechthold says:

    EI should be run like a savings account. You build up credit from deductions from both yourself and employer and when you draw, you only have that amount of credit and when it’s gone you look to other options like another job. I think that amount would be just enough to tide most honest people who intend to work until they find new employment or move to an area that has jobs. That would curtail the seasonal worker who languishes during the off season. I also think there should be an upper limit for those steady workers who pay for their entire life without ever drawing. Their contributions would not be needed if everyone was on a savings account system instead of a welfare system.

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