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Trudeau says feds will create EI-like benefit for gig, contract workers

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OTTAWA — The federal government plans to move as many out-of-work Canadians into the employment insurance system when a key emergency benefit runs out in the fall, and provide an EI-like support for millions who can’t qualify under existing rules.

OTTAWA — The federal government plans to move as many out-of-work Canadians into the employment insurance system when a key emergency benefit runs out in the fall, and provide an EI-like support for millions who can’t qualify under existing rules.

The change signals a potentially sweeping overhaul to the decades-old social safety net criticized in recent years for not keeping up with a modern labour force marked by increasing contract and gig work.

It was partly because of those holes that the government created the $80-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit at the start of the pandemic, which is set to wind down over the coming weeks.

Those who already qualify for EI will be moved to that program.

The government is promising a parallel, transitional benefit with EI-like components for those who can’t yet — “and I emphasize yet,” said Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough — get into the EI system. It will include access to training and the ability to work more hours without having as steep a clawback in benefit payments.

The government is also promising to relax EI eligibility rules like the number of hours required to receive support payments.

Speaking Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the goal is to move everyone receiving CERB to employment insurance, and cover anyone looking for work “with a better, 21st-century EI system.”

Details will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

The government’s most recent CERB figures show $62.75 billion in benefits to 8.46 million people. About half of those recipients have gone to EI-eligible workers.

Those eye-popping numbers were the reason the EI system was shelved in favour of the CERB in March, as federal officials worried the volume of claims would overwhelm the decades-old system.

The government is still expecting millions to be on EI come the fall — about four million, Qualtrough said, adding that the system has been tested and was ready to handle the deluge upon its restart.

“We believe that the CERB has served its purpose and the reason it was created is no longer the main focus of our efforts as a government to support workers,” Qualtrough said during a mid-afternoon press conference.

“We are going to move on to something different.”

The Liberals are hoping the change prods more Canadians to either go back to work or look for a job as the economy moves into what the Bank of Canada has described as a recuperation period before a long, bumpy recovery.

The recuperation appears to have started in May when the economy grew by 4.5 per cent, Statistics Canada reported Friday, re-emerging from severe lockdowns in March and April. That figure beat expectations, and a further sign of optimism was a preliminary estimate of five per cent growth in June, which will be finalized next month.

The national data agency said rebounds in May were seen across multiple industries, including retail trade registered that saw its largest monthly increase since comparable readings began in 1961.

“May’s GDP numbers demonstrate that our economy is rebounding from all-time lows, but the growth numbers we’re seeing simply represent businesses reopening after needed lockdowns,” said Trevin Stratton, chief economist at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Despite the two months of growth after two months of negative readings, Statistics Canada’s preliminary estimate is that economic output contracted by 12 per cent in the second quarter compared to the first three months of 2020, which would be a historic drop.

Statistics Canada said economic activity still remained 15 per cent below pre-pandemic level despite the gains over May.

Recouping the remaining percentage points will take months, if not longer. Much will rest on how many companies may yet close, how many jobs disappear with them.

“It’s a question of uncertainty at this point and how much damage the shutdowns have done,” said Benjamin Reitzes, BMO’s director of Canadian rates and macro strategist.

“We don’t really have that much information at this point, but if you consider the number of small businesses that are under significant pressure, maybe not surviving this period and the scarring broadly on the economy from things like that … it’s going to take time to recover from that.”

The federal government also announced Friday that it is extending a commercial rent-relief program through August as a lifeline to many small businesses whose revenues, while slowly returning, still lag behind their fixed costs.

So far the program has helped about 63,000 small business tenants through forgivable federal loans totalling $613 million. It is well below what the government hoped when it rolled out the aid.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the announcement is good news for those who can access the program, but called it a “slap in the face” for those whose landlords refuse to apply.

The organization called on the federal government to allow tenants to apply directly for help.

“Rent relief needs an overhaul now,” said Laura Jones, CFIB’s executive vice-president. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press









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Workers

Buckle Reinvents Insurance Model for Gig Economy with $31 Million Series A Funding

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JERSEY CITY, N.J.–()–Buckle, a tech-enabled financial services company, has filed its Regulation D and disclosed it raised $31 million through its Series A funding round co-led by HSCM Bermuda and Eos Venture Partners. Addressing gaps in conventional insurance policies that leave gig workers underinsured, Buckle is using the funding to reinvent the insurance model with new sources of data to underwrite risk, making insurance comprehensive, affordable, and easy to obtain for rideshare drivers.

“Whether rideshare drivers are on duty or driving their family around on personal time, Buckle will have them covered,” said Dustin Walsey, co-founder of Buckle. “We are excited to offer comprehensive, easy-to-understand insurance to active rideshare drivers for overall better personal protection.”

In 2019, Buckle launched its core rideshare insurance policy that combines personal and commercial coverages, in collaboration with Munich Re’s Digital Partners. Earlier this year, it expanded the program through a partnership with Lyft.

In June, Buckle announced the acquisition and recapitalization of Gateway Insurance Company (Gateway), including its 47 state insurance licenses. Now, through Gateway, Buckle is expanding insurance coverage to include transportation network companies (TNCs), traditional taxi, limo, and livery businesses using the Curb app.

“The ride-hailing market is expected to grow globally to approximately $260 billion by 2024,” said Vikas Singhal, Partner and CIO of Insurtech at HSCM Bermuda. “As the market grows, demand for straight-forward and affordable insurance coverage for both providers and TNCs will grow with it. We’re excited to help the Buckle team take the company to the next level.”

“The rideshare and dispatched delivery markets need specialized insurance expertise,” said Jonathan Kalman, Founding General Partner at Eos Venture Partners. “Buckle has built a comprehensive insurance solution to this growing market.”

Buckle plans to launch other products and partnerships as it expands nationwide.

About HSCM Bermuda

HSCM Bermuda is an asset manager focused on investments in the Re/Insurance and Transportation sectors. HSCM was launched in 2016 and focuses on core economic sectors that are likely to outgrow global GDP, offer low correlations with broader markets, and are experiencing a shift from balance sheet and to market financing. For more information about HSCM Bermuda, please visit www.hscm.com.

About Eos Venture Partners

Eos Venture Partners is a global independent Strategic Venture Capital Fund focused exclusively on InsurTech, investing in early and growth stage technology businesses that accelerate innovation and transformation across the insurance industry and value chain. Eos was founded in 2016 to bridge the “digital chasm” between InsurTech start-ups and traditional (re)insurance companies. Investors in the Eos fund, EVP I, are from the insurance sector, forming a close strategic relationship with the Eos team to capture both strategic and financial value from the innovation and technology change in the insurance industry. See more at: www.eosventurepartners.com.

About Buckle

Buckle offers total insurance coverage specifically for rideshare and other gig economy providers and TNCs, looking to get coverage that’s fair and simple. Buckle Rideshare Insurance isn’t a gap product that supplements an existing policy, but replaces a driver’s current auto insurance, providing continuous 24×7 coverage on-and-off the clock with one low rate. Connect with Buckle on Facebook and LinkedIn and visit www.buckleup.com.

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CERB 2.0? Trudeau Hints at New Benefit for Gig Workers

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The CERB may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean out-of-work Canadians can’t still get benefits.

That’s the takeaway from a recent statement by PM Justin Trudeau, who announced that his government had been working on a “21st century EI system.” In covering Trudeau’s statement, the Canadian Press reported that the revamped EI system would replace the CERB, bringing more Canadians under coverage — including one group of Canadians who had been sorely neglected until the CERB came into effect.

An “EI-like benefit” for gig workers

One of the main beneficiaries of Trudeau’s “transitional EI-like benefit” would be gig workers. Under current rules, gig workers are considered self-employed. That means that they’re opted out of EI by default. Gig workers can indicate that they want to pay in to EI, but usually don’t. The self-employed pay twice the usual rate on CPP; passing on EI premiums is a way to partially offset that extra tax. As a result, many self-employed Canadians aren’t covered by EI.

Trudeau’s new EI benefit could remedy that. While details on the plan are scarce so far, it appears that there will be an interim benefit to cover non-EI eligible Canadians, followed by a totally revamped EI system. It’s hard to predict exactly what the latter will consist of, but the former will probably be regular EI with looser eligibility requirements.

Why this is good news

While many out-of-work Canadians may bemoan the loss of the $2,000 a month benefit, it may ultimately be a good thing. The CERB has always been beset by concerns about eligibility and fraud. Many Canadians have reported being “scared” to spend their CERB money, and ominous CRA statements probably haven’t helped with that.

Getting back to EI could therefore be a welcome development. While the average monthly amount isn’t as high as the CERB, EI has fewer eligibility questions hanging over it. As a result, individuals receiving EI may feel more free to spend it.

For example, if you received $1,000 a month in EI, you could spend that money on investments. If you took $1,000 worth of EI and spent it on shares in Fortis, you’d be within your rights to do so. After all, it’s a program you paid in to, and if you’ve been laid off, you’re eligible to benefit from it. It doesn’t matter how you spend the money.

With the CERB, it’s not quite so simple. There’s been a big question mark about eligibility ever since the program began, and spending CERB money on non-essential items has been frowned upon. If you took $1,000 worth of CERB money and bought FTS shares with it, that wouldn’t make you ineligible. However, it could be inconvenient if the shares declined in value, and you were later forced to repay the CERB. With EI, you always know that you’re entitled to the money you’re getting, as applications are pre-screened for eligibility. As a result, you can sleep soundly no matter how you spend the money — be it on groceries, Fortis shares, or anything in between.

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Observers call on National Wages Council for more aggressive wage support, office to look after gig workers, Manpower News & Top Stories

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In September and October 1998, as the full impact of the Asian financial crisis on Singapore’s economy became more apparent, the National Wages Council (NWC) was convened a second time that year to revise its annual wage guidelines.

Its original guidelines, issued in May, had called for wage restraint and non-wage cost-cutting measures, as the Trade and Industry Ministry forecast economic growth for the year of between 2.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

But as the crisis deteriorated, the growth forecast for the year was revised downwards in June to between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent.

The NWC in November proposed that in addition to a 10 percentage point cut to employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions recommended by the Committee on Singapore’s Competitiveness, total wages for 1998 be cut by 5 per cent to 8 per cent, as compared with 1997.

This year, with Singapore headed for its worst recession since independence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, observers suggested that the council consider calling for more aggressive wage support, an office to look after gig workers and pay hikes for low-wage staff.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday that the NWC will reconvene this year. The council made its annual wage guidelines in March this year.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) chief executive Mayank Parekh said that without the prospect of a near-term recovery of demand, there could be more job losses and wage cuts on the horizon.

“It is timely for the NWC to review its earlier recommendations and seek support for additional measures to safeguard jobs and enhance employability,” he said.

“More aggressive wage measures, higher support for job redesign and re-training and additional guidelines on retrenchment payments could be considered.”

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem suggested the council look at whether the Jobs Support Scheme of wage subsidies can be extended, as well as the need for funding to facilitate job redesign for future-ready jobs.

It could also propose the setting up of a tripartite office to help and protect gig workers, who tend to fall under the radar because they do not have employers, she said.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said the NWC should continue to push for wage increases for low-wage workers, even amid the pandemic.

“Instead of recommending a quantum wage increase, I would like NWC to set a long-term target of where wages of these vulnerable low-wage workers who are performing essential services should be at. This could then act as a guideline for the wage increases and the necessary productivity initiatives that must be embarked upon to make it sustainable,” he added.

This is only the fourth time since being set up in 1972 that the council has been convened twice in the same year.

Aside from 1998, it also released revised recommendations in 2001, after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and in 2009 amid the global financial crisis.

In January 2009, the council updated its guidelines to recommend – among other things – that companies work with unions and workers to manage costs, such as through wage freezes or wage cuts, to save jobs.

The NWC had in March this year considered whether to recommend reducing CPF contribution rates to cut wage costs.

But Permanent Secretary for Manpower Aubeck Kam had said then that as the Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidy far exceeds the employer CPF contribution rates of up to 17 per cent, the Government did not feel that a cut to the rate was warranted.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said that short of extending the JSS payouts for worst-hit industries, a temporary cut in employer CPF contribution rates could be an option the NWC considers.

But he cautioned that such a move would need to be weighed very carefully. “It would be a reduction in workers’ savings, on top of already widespread wage cuts.”

Amid reports of major retrenchment exercises in recent weeks, Mrs Teo also commented yesterday on the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by the NTUC last month. It includes protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce, while foreigners with special or critical skills could be retained as well.

She said in her Facebook post that the Singapore National Employers Federation will consider the framework and discuss a mutually acceptable way forward with NTUC.

In the meantime, the Manpower Ministry will continue its work on the Fair Consideration Framework, she said, adding that there would be updates soon.

“Tripartite partners are aligned on one thing – the need to support our workers and businesses through the storm brought about by Covid-19. Much work ahead,” she said.



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