OTTAWA - Ottawa is increasing the period jobless workers can receive employment insurance benefits by five extra weeks, to a maximum of 50 weeks for the next two years, and increasing the protection for workers when their employer goes bankrupt.

The moves announced in the federal budget Tuesday are expected to cost $1.2 billion.

"Many Canadians who find themselves out of work will look to employment insurance to help make ends meet," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said.

"They will need greater support in this time of recession."

The extension effectively makes available nationally a version of the current five-week pilot project that has until now been only provided in regions with the highest unemployment rates.

"This will give EI recipients more time to get the extra training they need to find the right job," the minister said.

Under the proposed changes, the budget will also extend the wage-earner protection program to cover severance and termination pay, subject to the current maximum of four weeks of insurable earnings of $3,254.

The change will help ensure that workers losing their jobs because of a bankruptcy will receive some of the money owed to them.

Other changes include an extension of EI benefits for workers participating in longer-term training; extending the work-sharing program by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks; and the establishment of an expert panel to study how best to provide maternity and parental benefits to the self-employed.

The government says the longer-term training program will be enough to give 10,000 workers more time to complete their training and allow earlier access to benefits for workers who use some or all their severance package on training.

Money will also be provided for a strategic training and transition fund for Canadians no eligible for EI training, including the self-employed and those who have been out of work.

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