Half a million Canadians, or about 2.5% of the labour force, have filed for employment insurance last week following layoffs due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of applications received was 20 times the number recorded in the same week a year ago, according to Service Canada, a federal institution that is part of Employment and Social Development Canada.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau said the number of applications received was ‘historic’, adding that the government is working as fast as possible to support those unemployed.
Canada’s employment insurance sickness benefits provide up to 15 weeks of income replacement and is available to eligible claimants who are unable to work because of illness, injury or quarantine. The usual one-week waiting period for the benefits will be waived for new claimants who are quarantined so they can be paid for the first week of their claim.
Market watchers said the speed of the meltdown in the labour market is unprecedented. The largest number of unemployment claims for a whole month was 499,200 in 1957, according to Statistics Canada. University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted that the current percentage of job losses is in line with the worst month for employment during the Great Depression.
The country has announced a CA$82bn ($57bn) stimulus package to help workers and businesses cope amid the pandemic. As part of these efforts, the government has proposed extending benefits to those who are not eligible for employment insurance, those who must self-isolate or workers caring for a family member, said Global News.