Federal government to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks

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The federal government is extending employment insurance sickness benefits to 26 weeks, from 15 weeks previously, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced on Friday.

Workers applying for EI will be eligible for the more generous benefits from December 18. Supporters welcomed the move, but urged the government to deliver on its promise of a much bigger overhaul of the system.

Qualtrough made the announcement during a visit to the Canadian Cancer Society Regional Care Center in Vancouver.

« Far too many workers pay into EI, and yet when they get seriously ill, when they have injuries to recover from, the 15 weeks doesn’t cover the duration of their injury, » Qualtrough said.

« We know that. And organizations like yours have been calling for increased EI sick weeks for a very long time. »

The maximum length of unpaid sick leave available to workers in the federally regulated private sector is also extended to 27 weeks starting at 17, effective the same date.

This change will ensure that these workers will be able to take enough unpaid leave from work to receive EI extended sickness benefits.

In September, Qualtrough met with union leaders and promised to extend EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks by the end of the year, a change that was telegraphed in the 2022 budget.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the National Council of the Unemployed called the announcement a « big step forward ».

« But this is not new, and this announcement in no way replaces the long-awaited reform of employment insurance, which should be introduced at the beginning of December, » Pierre Céré said in a press release.

In 2021, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to modernize EI and pledged to expand the program to cover the self-employed and fill gaps, including those highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employment and Social Development Canada held a series of public consultations on employment insurance reform which concluded this summer.

Qualtrough said the government will present its plan by the end of the year. She added on Friday that the government « will have a lot more to say » about modernization.

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