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Proposed EI changes could help Alberta shortages

Changes to the employment insurance program could get more workers to give jobs in Alberta a closer look.

The changes announced last week and set to be implemented in 2013, would force workers to take on jobs outside of their industry and at lower pay rates if their initial job search did not bear fruit.

The regulations also set out a scale, with workers rarely or never claiming EI being asked to take work outside their career after months of searching, but more frequent claimants would have to be willing to take jobs outside of their career and at lower wages, up to 70 per cent of their former salary.

“We have tried to make it a little bit more fair, we have obviously taken some measures that are going to help Canada as a whole be more competitive,” said Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth.

Storseth said he heard about the employment insurance system from local businesses along with concerns about temporary foreign workers when he asked constituents for their thoughts on the budget earlier this year.

The changes will expand slightly commuting time claimants have to consider, but not enough to lure workers in from other provinces to Alberta’s booming workforce.

Business leaders are still welcoming the move, as something that might encourage workers to give the province a second look.

“The intent of encouraging people to look for employment and re-employment is good from an Alberta perspective,” said St. Albert chamber president Darel Baker.

With an apparent boom on the horizon or possibly underway, Baker said employees in the service sector are being pulled away to higher paying work, which leaves some local workers coming up short.

“When the economy heats up in Alberta people, certainly in the service sector, but not just in the service sector, there are opportunities for them to make some pretty significant money,” he said. “If there is an opportunity for people to fill in the gaps in the service sector or in the oil and gas industry that is a good thing.”

Storseth agrees there is nothing in the bill requiring EI claimants to change provinces, but he said he hopes people in the rest of the county will consider it.

“It is something that many Canadians have decided to do, and that is come to Alberta for work, and there are tremendous opportunities here,” he said. “When people come here from other parts of the country they often never leave.”

Baker said the new changes might not persuade older people or people who can’t leave their community for family or personal reasons, but it should lead to more people considering Alberta and the possibilities here.

“There has got to be a percentage of people that could take advantage of the employment opportunities here in Alberta.”

The legislation allowing for the changes is part of the government’s budget implementation bill. Assuming it passes, it would allow cabinet to make these changes and potentially other changes in the future.

“I think this is a great first step for us, a very positive step. I have heard nothing but good things from both employers and employees,” said Storseth.

St. Albert Gazette: The St. Albert Gazette has been the source for news and community information in St. Albert and area since 1961. Today the twice-weekly full-colour tabloid delivers award-winning journalism in print, online and on mobile.