15 August 2019 – Canada’s unions applaud the federal government’s decision to restore tripartite decision-making to the Employment Insurance (EI) appeals process, an outcome of the Social Security Tribunal Review first initiated in 2017.
Under the new system, EI appeals at the first level will be heard by a tripartite decision-making tribunal called the Employment Insurance Boards of Appeal, overseen by the Canada Employment Insurance Commission (CEIC). The Appeal Division of the Social Security Tribunal (SST) will continue to hear appeals at the second level. These changes are expected to come into full force in spring 2021.
“Today, an unjust and inefficient EI appeals system that was unnecessarily introduced by the previous government has been overturned and replaced with a process that restores fairness to workers,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff. “Returning first-level appeals to the oversight of the CEIC restores accountability and transparency to the EI appeals process, placing decision-making back in the hands of the workers and employers who pay into the system,” he added.
In 2012, the EI appeals process was reformed through the introduction of the SST, which eliminated the tripartite Board of Referees, a body consisting of independently appointed labour, employer and government representatives.
The SST system was introduced by the Harper government under the guise of creating a more streamlined process that would lead to faster, more transparent and more accurate decisions for Canadians appealing EI claims decisions.
In reality, the SST system:
- Quadrupled the time required for decisions;
- Increased costs from around $700 per appeal under the Board of Referees system to around $3,500 under the SST system;
- Discouraged appeals through an overly complex process, with the number of appellants falling from 24,000 under the old system to just 3,000 under the SST system;
- Replaced a three-person panel that heard appellants in person with a single-person adjudicator who typically heard cases over the phone;
- Introduced the power of “summary dismissal,” which allowed the SST to reject appeals without giving appellants a hearing; and
- Eliminated accountability to the CEIC, severing any connection between the SST and those who fund EI, and reducing transparency in the process.
Canada’s unions repeatedly voiced their concerns over the unfair and needlessly complex SST system, which posed immense barriers to workers and was particularly discriminatory towards those with disabilities, language barriers, or a lack of computer literacy skills.
In 2017, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Jean-Yves Duclos, responded by commissioning an independent Social Security Tribunal Review that sought recommendations by conferring with stakeholders of the EI appeals process, including senior government officials, labour representatives, and employers. The restoration of tripartite decision-making to the first level of appeal is a direct outcome of those consultations.
“We are especially thankful to Minister Duclos for his openness and willingness to listen to the concerns of stakeholders who were able to convey their discouragement and denial of justice under the SST system,” said Yussuff. “The Social Security Tribunal Review is a model for how governments can work collaboratively with stakeholders to correct unfair and inefficient practices.”
Today’s announcement also includes the creation of specially trained case navigators who will support appellants throughout the appeals process, as well as reintroduction of “de novo” hearings for second-level income security appeals (OAS, CPP, and Canada Pension Plan-Disability) that allow the introduction of new evidence not presented at the first level of appeal. Income security appellants will now have up to two years (instead of the current one year limit) to gather evidence for their case at the first level of appeal.
“The introduction of case navigators to the EI appeals process offers critical support to workers facing challenges navigating the system and will go a long way towards eliminating barriers put in place under the previous approach,” Yussuff said.
Canadian Labour Congress