Proposed changes to Employment Insurance rules being proposed – but not very well elaborated on –by the federal government has season workers on both sides of the country in a tizzy, including fishery workers here in Prince Rupert.
President of the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union, Irvin Figg came to the Prince Rupert City Council last week to ask them to send a letter to the federal government asking them to reconsider changes to the EI system that Figg says will hurt fish plant workers.
“ Many workers in this town in the fishing industry and in other industries work on a seasonal basis. And when they’re not in their primary jobs they try to pick up work somewhere else but that can be sporadic at best, many of them are underemployed,” says Figg.
The EI system has a number of programs in the EI system meant to make things easier for seasonal workers that are now going to be cut in this next federal budget.
One of these is allowing workers to count the 14 best weeks from the working season when making your EI claim rather than just the last 14 weeks of the season when a worker’s earnings are typically less than earlier in the season. The result of this program was that it allowed workers to make a bigger claim to the EI and get more money per week to support themselves on.
Another program to be changed is meant to be an incentive for getting another job. It allows workers who find a second job to earn 40 percent of what their weekly EI claim is and still receive their full EI amount. Now that is being dropped to 25 percent.
The federal government is also ending the 5 week extension in the duration that someone can claim EI benefits that was put in place in 2009. The maximum will be 45 weeks once again starting in September.
Figg says that these changes will do tangible harm to those who work in the fishing industry. He points to one of his union’s members who calculated out how the changes will affect him personally. Figg says that between working in a fish plant and another part-time job this man earns $12,000 a year which allows him to claim $360 a week from EI.
“With a stroke of a pen, they take these pilot projects away, he estimates – and I think he’s right – that instead of a claim of $360 he’ll only get $250. With his part-time job he was getting an exemption of $146 a week he could earn before they took his EI away, now that $63,” says Figg.
“He’s going to loose 200 a week, $800 a month. That’s the difference between being able to pay the bills and having some quality food on the table. He’s done everything the government wants him to do.”
Council decided that it would send a letter to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledging the “success of those programs” and asking the minister to extend them rather than cut them in the budget.