Pro­posed changes not sit­ting well with many

New rules will hurt ru­ral ar­eas, say op­po­nents

The Southern Gazette - - SPORTS - BY ADAM RAN­DELL TRANSCON­TI­NEN­TAL COM­MU­NITY NEWS­PA­PERS

‘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.

Clarenvill­e Packet

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