EI changes cause concern
by Phil Ambroziak
A long winter could be in store for some seasonal workers in northern Saskatchewan.
On May 24, federal minister of human resources and skills development Diane Findley announced changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program. According to the government, the changes will serve to better connect Canadians with available jobs. At the same time, however, there are some people who feel the changes could have a negative impact on hardworking individuals who rely on EI to supplement their income at different times of the year – particularly forest firefighters in the North who primarily operate during the spring and summer months.
“When they (forest firefighters) return, they will be targeted as frequent (EI) applicants,” remarked NDP MP Niki Ashton, who represents the Churchill riding in Manitoba. “The first step is to acknowledge the reality of the northern economy and that many aboriginal and northern communities depend on seasonal work. These jobs keep our communities safe and sustain families and communities that already struggle with poverty.”
According to Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Rob Clarke, the current EI rules require Canadians to actively look for work while collecting EI benefits. If they refuse or are unable to provide such records, it could impact their EI eligibility.
“They will also receive additional guidance on how to search for jobs suited to their particular skills,” Clarke said. “We’re asking for people to keep records of what they’re doing to find work or to enhance their skill set (so they can find work).”
Clarke also confirmed EI would remain available for people who adhere to this process, but who are unsuccessful in finding a job.
Some people, however, remain concerned the new process could result in a loss of income for those who are deserving of EI benefits.
“Most of these seasonal workers are commercial fishermen or work for SERM (ministry of environment) as forest firefighters,” noted Buffalo Narrows Mayor Bobby Woods. “They have families to support, so I would like to hear more from the government as to what they expect these people to do? It’s either this (EI) or welfare and most of these people are too proud to do that. But, if it’s the only option, it could happen.”
The government also said it will deliver measures to better align the EI program and the Temporary Foreign Workers program to ensure Canadians know of, and can apply for, local jobs before temporary foreign workers are approved for hire.
Woods, meanwhile, said there needs to be policies in place to separate seasonal workers from people who take advantage of the EI system.
“Some people do find other work when they are laid off, but it isn’t always easy to find two seasonal jobs to keep you going throughout the year,” he said. “These people want to work. They’ve also paid for these benefits and, dammit, they should be eligible for them when they need them.”
“Unfortunately, one bad apple ruins the whole barrel,” Clarke said with regard to people who take advantage of the system.