Proposed changes not sitting well with many
New rules will hurt rural areas, say opponents
‘Devastating’, ‘ Unacceptable’, ‘End of rural Newfoundland and Labrador’ are all words being tossed around following last month’s news out of Ottawa of changes to the employment insurance system.
The Conservative government is pushing the changes through bill C38, the omnibus budget bill. The budget bill was bundled with 70 other different pieces of legislation, one of which was changes to employment insurance regulations.
It could mean people receiving assistance will have to travel further to find work and be forced to take lower paying jobs. It may also be me more difficult for repeat users of the EI system to receive benefits.
Neville Samson, a former seasonal shrimp plant worker in Trinity Bay North, sees a whole lot of additional worry for his town, and the province, because a large portion of Newfoundland and Labrador is based around seasonal income.
The new terms, which will come into effect next year, aren’t feasible in his opinion. He expects the seasonal industry to suffer as a result, because people will move elsewhere.
“They say there’s no such thing as a bad job, maybe not, but it only applies if you’re in the right situation.”
He said someone having an hour’s commute, paying a babysitter, and maintaining a home, while working minimum wage isn’t the right situation.
“You would be putting yourself in the hole,” he told the Packet.
While there are possibilities within an hour’s commute of TBN, Mr. Samson said the possibilities are limited.
“Most of those positions are only available during the summer (the peninsula’s tourism peak), when others are already working seasonal employment.”
And if the jobs aren’t available locally, people could have to go even further afield.
Altogether, he said, it makes the government’s requirements unrealistic.
Speaking as a town councilor, he predicted the new EI rules will drive residents away from their communities.
He said in many rural communities across the province, residents are employed seasonally out-ofprovince.
These residents maintain homes in Newfoundland and Labrador during their downtime, and Mr. Samson sees lasting impacts. He thinks it will force people out. And that’s not a good thing. He said when people move from their communities, local businesses suffer and towns take a hit when it comes to their tax base, which then affects services offered.
“The bottom line is as a population declines, towns lose their ability to operate. (Rural communities have) transient workers, but what happens when they don’t come back?”
SEASONAL EMPLOYER CONCERNS
The proposed changes also raise concerns for Geraldine Prince, owner of Princeton Seawater Fisheries Ltd.
The operation ran year-round until 2004. She noted though as a result of regulation they were forced to return to a seasonal operation. Currently her company employees between six and 14 workers.
Ms. Prince said her operation runs about eight months of the year, and, because of poor weather and availability of species, there are periods of part-time work.
She said this is where unemployment insurance comes into play. Workers can file a claim and report their earnings as work becomes available, providing a stable income.
Ms. Prince questioned “If there’s a (work shortage) gap of a couple of weeks, and they are forced to take a job at some other business, how’s that going to work?
“Either I’m going to be left high and dry with nobody, or the other business is going to be left in a bad situation.”
The fact her employees may have to work elsewhere for a couple of months also worries her. She said it could cause relocations, leaving her with a shortage of workers and a community suffering.
Ms. Prince, who has been involved with the fishery industry for decades, said the government plan doesn’t make sense.
“(Governments) want people to leave rural Newfoundland ... and they come up with these plans, but when you’re actually out there doing the work, it’s not the same ... they’ve lost sight of reality.”
Referencing the fishery, she said “They’ve dragged every cent they can out of the fishing industry, out of the pockets of the fishermen and plant workers ... now they are hitting the last thing that’s left, employment insurance.”
Ms. Prince said there are ways of accommodating the changes, but it requires investments in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
As an example of returning yearround employment in rural Newfoundland, she suggested government take department offices – such as fishery and tourism – and locate them at the source, instead of St. John’s.
“Then any job that might arise, could see a displaced worker come into the position.”
LIBERALS VOICE CONCERNS
The Liberal opposition is pulling no punches when it comes to the Conservative government’s plans for employment insurance.
Random-Burin-St. George’s MP Judy Foote called it an attack on seasonal workers.
“This government has no concept on what they are proposing to the impact that it will have on rural communities.
“(Their) approach seems to be the same approach they are taking with their crime and punishment agenda; it brands those who require EI to get through periods of unemployment as repeat offenders, and penalizes them for losing a job through no fault of their own.”
She said the requirements will force people to take jobs further from home, at a higher expense, for a low skilled-job that pays less.
“It’s penalizing the working and the employer by hiring someone who doesn’t want to be there.”
Calling the employment insurance plan vague, she said, there is nothing outlining how to deal with people who are currently receiving assistance, how the changes will affect the 1.4 million Canadians out of work, and there is no reference to retraining.
“(The Liberals) would like to see this one in particular taken out of the omnibus bill, given to a parliamentary committee, to consult with employers, employees and communities that would be affected by the changes.”
Mrs. Foote said although the Conservative government holds a majority, Canadians have to make their voices known and point out government should be concerned about their re-election.