Splitting P.E.I. into two zones for the purpose of calculating employment insurance benefits creates a huge disparity between Island workers, says a UPEI economics professor.

Jim Sentance

The federal government should stick with just one employment insurance zone for P.E.I., says economics professor Jim Sentance. (CBC)

The changes mean that if you live in the P.E.I. zone, in the east and west of the province, you'll only have to work 420 hours per year to get 26 weeks of benefits, an improvement for workers compared to the current system.

But if you live in the Charlottetown zone, you'll have to work a minimum of 595 hours, and get 18 weeks of benefits. In order to be eligible for 26 weeks of benefits, workers in Charlottetown would need to put in 1120 hours.

Jim Sentance, an associate professor in economics, said Islanders with similar jobs, regardless of where they live, should all have the same EI benefits.

"You've got a large amount of people in what's called the Charlottetown area  who are really living out in the countryside  like the people in the rural area, have the same kind of jobs and same kind of job prospects, are part of a seasonal economy that may be related to tourism, for example," he said.

The Charlottetown zone extends up to the North Shore from Brackley Beach to Blooming Point, with sections that reach into Kings County and central Queens.

Sentance also noted that the lower unemployment rate in Charlottetown does not necessarily mean it is easier to find a job there, especially for seasonal workers. Much of the Charlottetown labour market is made up of steady, long-term work, in the public service, health care, and education.

"Most of these seasonal workers don't have access to that," said Sentance.

"They're never going to get that, but the presence of that lowers the unemployment rate."

Sentance said the federal government should just keep P.E.I. as one zone. The changes are scheduled to come into effect Oct. 12.

For mobile device users: Should Ottawa drop the plan to split P.E.I. into two employment insurance zones?