The West Coast won’t be benefitting from any of the $189 million in employment insurance support that was announced on Aug. 20. Thirteen regions in Canada are getting five-week EI extentions for seasonal workers, but they’re all in Eastern Canada.
“Once again, the West Coast is conveniently forgotten by this government, in particular the North Coast fishing industry and our families who count on the government to make good policy decisions,” MP Nathan Cullen said in response to the announcement. “Fishing families equally need, want and deserve a similar five-week extension, as well as other supports to ensure sufficient hours and earnings to qualify for EI benefits.”
The 13 regions that are part of the pilot project to extend support for seasonal workers include areas in P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, New Foundland and Labrador, Yukon and five areas in Quebec. Christina Nelson, the northern organizer of United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU) in Prince Rupert, said those areas have some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
The announcement stated the areas chosen for the pilot project have higher proportions of seasonal claimants compared to the total labour force, as well as higher than average EI unemployment rates in the previous year. But how those rates are determined can depend on the size of the region.
“If you’re looking at seasonal workers, we have seasonal workers. They seem to have been missed in this calculation,” Nelson said.
It could be because of the large economic region that the North Coast is included in, she said. Area 55 takes up two-thirds of B.C.
“We’re 9.8 per cent [unemployment rate] but one of the places that is in the pilot project is 10.8. So we’re talking a one per cent difference,” Nelson said. “I don’t believe we have 9.8 per cent. I believe in Prince Rupert with our seasonal workers, it’s much much higher than that.”
The unemployment rate of a region dictates how many hours someone needs to work to qualify for EI. At 9.8 per cent unemployment in Area 55, workers need 560 hours — which Nelson said is difficult to work at the best of times.
“From our point of view, we’ve had a really terrible season,” Nelson said. “We had one guy with 22 years seniority, he’s had four days of work. It’s been pretty much a disaster. Not many people are able to collect EI, because they need the going rate, which at this point is 560 hours. We certainly need that extension here on the North Coast because these are the seasonal workers who are truly impacted as they are on the East Coast or in the eastern provinces.”