North Coast fishermen received welcome news last week when the Government of Canada introduced sweeping changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program.
New rules regarding the threshold for hours worked, entrant rules and more will take effect this month, all designed to improve upon a decades-old system that federal officials say are outdated.
Seasonal fishermen can now qualify for EI with the same eligibility requirements as other claimants in the economic area where they live.
Previously, it took 910 hours of insurable employment for claimants to claim EI benefits, and with the changes, it will now take between 420 and 700 hours.
The United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU) had voiced their concern over tough and restrictive EI qualifications this past year after the fishing season was so short. It’s estimated by the government that an additional 50,000 Canadians will be eligible for EI with the change.
Fishermen will also go from a $5,500 income earned qualifying threshold to a requirement of between $2,500 to $4,200.
Northern British Columbia was identified as one of the 15 hardest hit economic regions in the country.
As a result of this, Budget 2016 has allowed an extension of EI regular benefits by five weeks to a maximum of 50 weeks of benefits for eligible claimants in these regions. Long tenured workers in the regions may be offered an additional 20 weeks of benefits (to a maximum of 70).
“This measure will ensure that long-tenured workers, who may have spent years working in one industry or for one employer, have the financial support they need while they search for work, possibly in an entirely different industry and/or acquire the skills necessary to change careers,” explained the Government of Canada’s website.
Those who began a claim for regular EI benefits from Jan. 4, 2015 onward and are still unemployed will be eligible for these benefits beginning this month and the government expects this measure to help 235,000 workers until they find work, with up to $13,000 distributed per worker.
However, the Northern British Columbia economic area still includes the geographic area stretching all the way from Prince Rupert to Fort St. John, which creates problems from an employment data standpoint if some cities in the region are thriving and some aren’t. As well, the commodity-focused areas range from fishing to mining to others, and some claimants may be expected to try and get another job in their same economic area, which could be hundreds of kilometres away, while smaller economic areas such as those in urban Ontario or the Lower Mainland are much smaller and easier to gain access to when searching for other work.
“We are delivering on our commitment to improve the Employment Insurance program so that it better serves workers and employers. These changes to the EI program give Canadians access to more help when they need it,” said MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
Collectively, the Government of Canada expects the changes and Budget 2016 to distribute $2.7 billion over the next two years for improvements to the EI program.