Island minister urges Ottawa to back down on EI changes

Changes to the employment insurance system will have a negative effect on P.E.I. seasonal economy and force workers to find jobs elsewhere, says provincial Innovation Minister Allen Roach.

Roach says new system will hurt P.E.I.'s seasonal business

EI changes would impact many seasonal workers on P.E.I., like lobster fishing. (CBC)

Changes to the employment insurance system will have a negative effect on the P.E.I. seasonal economy and force workers to find jobs elsewhere, says provincial Innovation Minister Allen Roach.

Roach briefed the Legislature's standing committee on Fisheries, Transportation and Rural Development Tuesday before launching a lobby of the federal government to reverse the changes.

In early August, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced changes to the "working while on claim pilot program" for EI recipients who find part-time work while still collecting benefits.

It replaced the previous system that clawed back claims once the part-time wages exceeded 40 per cent of benefits, or $75 a week, whichever was greater.

The new pilot program reduced the clawback on new earnings to 50 per cent, but kicked in with the first dollar earned, not at 40 per cent.

Roach said another recent change saw seasonal workers' EI benefits run out after 23 weeks, five weeks sooner then before. He said there will also be tighter rules, especially when it comes to job searches and travelling to available work.

The provincial minister said this would force EI recipients to look for off-Island jobs.

"It's the lack of recognition of what the seasonal employees really are on Prince Edward Island. If you're a skilled employee working in another job, there's not going to be a problem. No one is going to question that if you're a trained IT worker or anything like that. But if you're trained and have skills in a seasonal job, you're going to be disadvantaged," he said.

Seasonal worker Roger Byers said he'll lose about $400 a month under the new changes .

"That's bills not getting paid, that's food not being bought," he said.

Opposition MLA Stephen Myers said the onus of creating jobs is on Roach.

"We've all said right from the onset that this was not going to be favorable to Prince Edward Island, but [Roach] completely brushes off the fact that he has responsibility as minister of development to create an economy here on P.E.I.. That's what it comes down to, it's his job," said Myers.

Meanwhile, several unions, community groups and politicians gathered in Charlottetown Tuesday to fight changes to employment insurance.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees said they plan to host a rally Saturday in front of National Revenue Minister Gail Shea's office in Summerside.

"To me 'standup for us' is my message to Gail Shea and if it means losing your cabinet post, well, it means losing your cabinet post," said Lori MacKay, CUPE president.