nb-seasonal-workers-protest

Seasonal workers protested EI reforms at the Service Canada office in Tracadie-Sheila on Thursday. (Courtesy of Francois Vigneault)

About 200 people occupied the Service Canada office in Tracadie-Sheila on Thursday to protest Employment Insurance reforms.

They say the changes will hurt seasonal workers and they want to meet with federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

The new rules, slated to take effect on Jan. 6, include requiring repeat claimants to accept jobs that could pay 30 per cent less than their normal wages and be located an hour's commute away.

The protesters, who showed up at about 9 a.m., say they are particularly upset about the new rates for EI and the requirement to look for work.

They say it's a costly and useless exercise since there are no jobs on the Acadian peninsula at this time of year.

Stephane Richardson, a business owner who employs seasonal workers, supports the protesters.

"It's all about the new regulations that they're talking about the changes that they want to bring to the EI system, which basically everybody here being seasonal will be badly affected," said Richardson.

There are only a few full-time jobs on the Acadian Peninsula, he said.

The peaceful Tracadie-Sheila protest continued late into the afternoon, with about 20 protesters still inside the office at about 4 p.m.

It is the latest in a string of demonstrations held across the province since the changes were announced in May.

About 200 people attended a similar protest in Shediac earlier this week.

Premier David Alward was warned the reforms could cause problems for many seasonal employers and spur on a further exodus from rural New Brunswick, in a briefing note, dated June 28.

The changes could cut benefits to roughly 465 people during peak periods and reduce the amount of EI benefits flowing into the province by $7 million annually, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

The Alward government is refusing to agree to a joint letter with the Liberals protesting the EI changes.

The letter asks Prime Minister Stephen Harper to provide "greater flexibility recognizing the unique nature of regions where seasonal industries play a significant role in a provincial economy and the lack of full-time employment opportunities."

New Brunswick is traditionally one of the the most heavily-dependent provinces on the EI program. In the last 24 months, there were an average of 35,019 EI clients each month, with the number reaching as high as 45,830.