Federal budget offers help to seasonal workers in EI 'black hole'

Fernand Thibodeau didn't hide his disappointment on what's being offered to seasonal workers in New Brunswick in the federal budget.

Action committee spokesperson says more should have been done

Fernand Thibodeau, spokesman for the Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers, says he hoped more of a permanent fix would have been made to the EI program to help seasonal workers in New Brunswick. (CBC NEWS)

Fernand Thibodeau didn't hide his disappointment on what's being offered to seasonal workers in New Brunswick in the federal budget. 

"I'm not going to say it's good and I'm not going to say it's bad," he said of what federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Tuesday to help those living in what is known as the black hole - the period between the time employment insurance benefits run out and seasonal work begins. 

The federal budget will include funding to allow the federal government to work with provinces to help seasonal workers affected by the EI eligibility fluctuations from year to year and can't find alternative employment in between seasons.

"This will take the form of both short-term support starting in 2017–18, as well as pilot projects that will be developed and implemented in partnership with provinces over the next two years," the budget reads. 

$10 M to be spent on immediate help

In the short term, $10 million will be reallocated from departmental resources to provide immediate income support and training to affected workers.

Then $230 million will be spent over the next two years through federal-provincial Labour Market Development Agreements.

The funds will be used to develop local solutions between the federal and provincial governments that can be tested to support workforce development.

From that Thibodeau, a member of the  Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers in the Acadian Peninsula sees people being paid to go back to school for upgrading or courses but he says that won't work for everyone. 

"That's not going to fix the problem," Thibodeau said.

​"They said maybe something's going to come after two years but right now it's the same thing that we've heard for a long time.

Thibodeau and others have been lobbying government to make changes to the employment insurance program since 2017.

That's when they began telling MPs and MLAs seasonal workers in the province were going to be in a black hole when their benefits would run out long before their seasonal work began. 

Different regions linked to benefits

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is congratulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after delivering the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb.27, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The gradual drop in the unemployment rate from 14. 2 per cent in Jan. 2017 to 11.5 per cent in Aug. 2017 made it more difficult for seasonal workers to access employment insurance benefits.

The number of weeks of benefits is linked to the unemployment rates of the different regions.

Seasonal workers in the Restigouche-Albert economic region had to work for 490 hours to receive 23 weeks of benefits.

In fall 2016, a seasonal worker needed 420 hours of work to receive benefits for 30 weeks.

Seasonal workers in other parts of the province were affected as well. 

Thibodeau said he was hoping to see a special program created to help seasonal workers in the province, "a permanent fix."

Thibodeau said while the economy may be good in some parts of Canada and the EI rates may be low, that doesn't mean every part is the same, especially in rural areas. 

Long term dependency a concern

The Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers in the Acadian Peninsula held a protest rally demanding change recently in Tracadie. (Radio-Canada/Héloïse Bargain)

But Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said while people want to receive help with EI, the concern is creating a cycle that can be harmful in the longer run.

"Look, we want to make sure that people who need help are helped but at the same time if EI is at a point where it's going to be creating a long term dependency that is something that has to be flagged for concern." 

Despite the announcement, Thibodeau said people aren't happy and still plan to hold rallies and protests over the EI issues for seasonal workers. 

"I've had many calls today and this is not what they want. They want the problem to be fixed." 

About the Author

Gail Harding

Web Writer

Gail Harding began her career as a journalist in the newspaper industry before joining CBC as a web writer.