It's a long-standing debate.
Does the Employment Insurance system create a culture of laziness?
The debate got started again last month when the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council issued the results of a survey they had commissioned.
The survey, conducted by Corporate Research Associates in 2009, questioned 255 members of the Council (businesses), and received 111 responses.
Thirty-two percent of the respondents said current EI rules make it harder to find employees.
Sixty percent of those surveyed said an employee had asked for a layoff in order to receive EI benefits.
The Federation of Labour said the survey was "insulting and derogatory" to workers.
President Lana Payne said she felt the Council's criticism of EI was just a means to deflect attention from problems with the labour market in the province.
There is truth on both sides here. Yes, there are people for whom the EI system is a way of life.
However, the thing that must be considered was that the survey wasn't exactly a "sweeping" analysis.
One hundred and eleven participants is not exactly a large contingent.
And the questions the surveyors posed were simplistic; they asked whether an employee had ever asked for a layoff to obtain EI benefits, and if a person had ever turned down a job offer to remain on EI?
However, the EI issue can't be concluded on the merits of two narrow questions, asked of just over 100 people.
A comprehensive examination of the economic and social structure of the various regions of the province would provide more insight into why people choose EI instead of full time work.
Take a region like the Bonavista Peninsula as a "for example." Take a person who quit high school to take a good paying job at a fish plant that operated year round for over 20 years. Put them in a situation where they're built a home and life around that job and then take away the fish plant.
The house is still there with a mortgage to pay, the year round job is not and there are no other local prospects for the worker who has no education and no work experience beyond cutting and packing fish.
Pretty well all of them would kill for a full time job. Sure, some of them might be able to move away, but to what? Low education qualifies them for low-paying menial work elsewhere, on a paycheck that has to cover the cost of renting in another town, and still maintaining the payments on the homestead. The EI system is not so much a preferred way of life for them, as a necessity to just try to get by.
And what of the working conditions and expectations of employers? Yes, they are reasonable to expect a full day of work, but is it reasonable to expect that workers can commit to a long-term job that will never pay more than minimum wage, a health plan or retirement package?
Lack of affordable, accessible childcare is a major part of the EI issue.
If the surveyors had added the question "Has an employee ever asked for a layoff because they did not have, or could not afford, child care?" it would have offered a very interesting perspective on the EI situation.
In fact, people have, and do, ask for layoffs for that reason. One local employer shared that with us a few years ago. He was one of those forward-thinking employees who recognized that if childcare was not available and affordable, people would have no choice but to choose EI over a full-time paycheck.
Do the math on a salary of $15 an hour, 40 hours a week, and factoring in $30 to $40 a day (if you're fortunate enough to be able to find it) for child care five days a week, and you will soon realize the struggle and hard decisions that working families have to make. Now do the math on a $10/hour wage.
The issue of EI is intricately connected to childcare, affordable housing, hourly wages and the availability of full-time and overtime work.
Exploring the issue from the perspective of just two questions draws conclusions that are misleading and inaccurate.