Prince Edward Islanders are finding it difficult to take advantage of a new employment insurance system that was supposed to encourage people to take part-time work while receiving EI benefits.


Melvin Ford believes he will be worse off under the new EI system. (CBC)

Under the new system, which came into effect Aug. 5, EI recipients can keep 50 cents of every dollar they earn.

The system works well for EI recipients who are able to find lucrative part-time work, but Melvin Ford of eastern P.E.I., who works in events management and often finds himself on EI in the winter, said that's difficult for many people on Prince Edward Island.

"If you're making $20 to $25 an hour, then yeah," Ford said.

"If you can earn a big chunk of money in a week in less than 35 hours, you're going to win the system. But unless you're making the big money, it's not worth it."

Alyson Queen, director of communications for Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley, said the new rules eliminate a cap on earnings, allowing claimants to continue to collect EI and work at the same time.

"Our government is wanting to ensure that Canadians do have the opportunity to work more, and keep more while they are collecting EI on a temporary basis," said Queen in a phone interview.

She said government wanted to change the old system.

"There was no encouragement for [claimants] to continue to accept work," said Finley, "We wanted to change that."

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter said Sunday he has been receiving a lot of complaints from constituents.

Under the new system, a person receiving benefits of $330 and earning $300 a week part-time would bring in $480 a week, compared to $462 before the change. 

But the new calculations do not come out so well for EI recipients earning less. That same person with $330 in benefits making $150 a week part-time brings in $405 under the new system, compared to $462 before the change.

Previously, EI recipients could earn up to 40 per cent of their benefits and keep every dollar. Anything above that would be deducted from their benefits.

Premier Robert Ghiz said what works for EI claimants in larger cities, may not work on P.E.I. where the main industries are seasonal.

"It's going to have more of an impact here than, perhaps, in downtown Toronto or downtown Calgary," said Ghiz. "Our viewpoint is we want to make sure it's not going to harm our seasonal industries."