Modernizing Canada’s Employment Insurance program

A social safety net for self-employed artists and gig workers

A modernized EI program that takes into account these unique labour circumstances is critical not only for the wellbeing of Canada’s artists, but for the sustainability and growth of the sector overall. It must be understood that not all artists may need this kind of support, and it is designed to help people when and if they need it. For some, that need may be seasonal or when they have a bad sales year, for example. Without it, we are at great risk of losing artists to other sectors, and without individual artists our most celebrated cultural institutions, festivals, and organizations would cease to exist. As such, a new EI program should:

  • Insure income, not employment
  • Be accessible to freelance and gig workers, and workers with mixed-employment
  • Be available to those demonstrating a modest level of prior income (i.e. $5,000 in the previous year), and be available without prior individual contribution to the program
  • Act as an effective safety net by providing unemployed, underemployed, and precariously employed workers with income support of $2,000/month. Payment amounts should not increase nor decrease based on the level of the EI recipient’s prior income; this practice perpetuates multiple inequalities experienced by the most vulnerable
  • Include a tax deduction of 10% at source, to avoid confusion about whether or not it is taxable income, and with the understanding that individuals may be required to pay more (or less), depending on their personal situation
  • Encourage recipients to develop and earn employment or self-employment income by allowing for reasonable monthly earnings (i.e $1000) before reducing EI payments.

Modernizing the Employment Insurance program is an essential step in acknowledging and addressing the income precarity disproportionately experienced by artists and cultural workers. Most self-employed and contract-based workers in the arts sector cannot afford to pay into the current EI model.As workers in other sectors return to their jobs, the income potential of artists and gig workers remain highly unstable, particularly as the arts and tourism sectors are expected to take the longest to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. It is estimated that full recovery may not happen until 2028, if ever. Without a modernized support program that acknowledges the realities of labour in the arts and culture sector, many will be pushed to social assistance, and further into poverty, which decreases their chances for positive economic, social, and health outcomes, and is ultimately more expensive in the long-term (i.e., increased public health care costs associated with poverty).

A modernized program that ensures income, and not employment will also address equity, access, diversity, and inclusion in the arts sector, specifically for Canadians who are low-income, and those emerging from intergenerational poverty.

The full brief is available here.