A letter to all Nova Scotia MPs from NS Federation of Labour President Danny Cavanagh
Re: Reforming Canada’s Employment Insurance Appeal Process
We write to you as an organization that works daily to advocate for an Employment Insurance (EI) system that serves all workers. Employment Insurance plays an important role in ensuring that workers do not fall into poverty when they lose their jobs. For that system to work, it is essential that applying for income replacement benefits be fast, fair and easy. And if that application is denied, the appeal process must also be fast, fair and easy.
We had a system that was not broken, but the former Conservative Government’s introduction of the Social Security Tribunal replaced a system that worked with a process that did not.
The Social Security Tribunal was introduced under the guise of generating savings and is mandated to hear workers’ appeals on Employment Insurance. It was supposed to streamline the process and lead to faster and better decisions for the workers appealing EI claim decisions.
After four years of operations, it is clear that these goals have not been met. Instead, appellants are faced with a process that is rife with frustrations and delays and too often are denied natural justice.
The time required for decisions has quadrupled to an average of four months or longer to get a decision. Many appellants must wait much longer. Workers who faithfully pay their contributions deserve EI when they need it.
The switch from the Board of Referees/Umpire appeal process to the Social Security Tribunal has had many adverse effects. It has created an overly complex process that requires a high level of literacy and legal expertise. The process frustrates potential appellants and discourages them from appealing at all. This might explain some of the massive drops in the number of EI appeals in recent years.
The former system saw around 24,000 appeals to the Board of Referees. Under the current system, there are just under 58,000 requests for reconsideration per year. While over 30,000 reconsideration requests are unsuccessful, there were only around 3,500 appeals to the Social Security Tribunal.
The entry point of the old appeals system was the Board of Referees, a body of three people representing labour and business and were appointed by the government at the recommendation of the Employment Insurance Commissioners.
These decision makers met appellants in person and allowed them to tell their story in a community-based setting. The appeals are now handled by a single-person who typically hears and establishes the credibility of an appellant over the telephone. With the introduction of a “summary dismissal” power, some workers don’t get a hearing at all.
There is a lack of transparency in the operation and performance of the Social Security Tribunal which eliminates any accountability to the employers and workers who fund EI.
Costs have not come down, they have skyrocketed. Partial evidence indicates that an appeal now costs about $3,500 to administer under the Social Security Tribunal as opposed to about $700 under the old Board of Referee system, begging the very premise of the reform in the first place.
Claimants had the option of requesting an administrative “Reconsideration” in the past but that step has now been made mandatory in the new recourse and appeal system, creating time-consuming and unnecessary hurdles and adds a full month to the appeal process.
The process is unfair. To fix them, we do not need further piecemeal reforms. At this point, the government must reinstate the important historical role of labour and employer representatives in the appeal process, including returning to the three-member panels.
There must also be mechanisms in place to ensure transparency and accountability to the workers and employers who fund the system. Workers who have lost their jobs need the system to reflect a process that responds quickly and the time it takes to get to a decision should be short. There must be 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.
We are hopeful that the Government, after calling for this necessary review, will see the need to make fundamental changes to restore a fair and speedy appeal process. We are asking that you as an MP in the province support our call to return to the board of referees composed of workers and employers. We also ask that those worker representatives be referred to appointments through the Federations of labour.