As unemployment numbers continue to rise, Toronto workers demanded yesterday the government repair the employment insurance program they say leaves thousands of workers in the cold.

“People have paid into EI all their working lives. Now we are in a recession that might be a depression and the benefits are not there when people most need them,” said John Cartwright, head of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

“It is an outrage,” said Cartwright, surrounded by more than 200 unemployed people outside a Service Canada office at Dufferin Mall. Only one-third of Toronto’s unemployed workers qualify for EI, he said.

But in Ottawa yesterday, Diane Finley, human resources minister, said, “Over 80 per cent of Canadians who pay into the EI system are able to collect benefits and they are getting them on time.”

In Toronto, a worker must have 595 insured hours to qualify for benefits. Across Canada, that number goes as low as 420 and as high as 700 hours. Workers are calling for a national standard of 360 hours.