Manitoba

Dozens of laid-off workers in Churchill have no EI benefits: union

The union representing workers at the Port of Churchill is calling on the federal government to ensure all laid-off workers receive Employment Insurance.

Union of Canadian Transportation Employees says 65 seasonal workers left out in the cold

Kim Kushniryk worked for OmniTrax in Churchill for nine years before the port closed. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The union representing workers at the Port of Churchill is calling on the federal government to ensure all laid-off workers receive Employment Insurance.

In July, the Denver-based company OmniTrax announced it would be closing the port as well as reducing rail service to the northern Manitoba community.

The news came as a surprise to workers and the town's mayor, Mike Spence.

Most of the laid-off port employees — who number between 65 and 70 people — are seasonal workers and therefore not entitled to EI benefits, says the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE), part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

"Many of the workers have been looking [for work] in Churchill, but there's not a lot available. Some of them are looking to leave the community whether it's to go down to the mines in Gillam or wherever they can to find work," said Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice president for the PSAC.

"As time goes on people will have to start leaving Churchill to find some employment. Because there's no commitment from anywhere that anything is going to change."

UCTE is calling on Ottawa to establish an Employment Insurance zone for workers in the area, similar to what the federal government did in Fort McMurray after wildfires tore through the Alberta city.

The change would give EI benefits to employees who have not worked long enough to meet current requirements and would extend those benefits for a longer period of time.

Reopen the port, says union

Along with the changes to EI, the UCTE is calling for the federal and provincial governments to reopen the port and its grain shipping activities this season.

"It's absolutely urgent. The reality is the workers and the community are waiting for someone to step up with something. And as time goes on, this situation is going to become even more desperate. If there [are not] some sort of discussions happening now, the 2017 season is in jeopardy," said Hladun.

UCTE said it has reached out to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr but he was "unable" to meet with them, the union said.

"We have been told that we are not stakeholders in the process and so there is no need to meet with us. We represent these workers! If 10 percent of a community's population is not a stakeholder, then who is?" said Hladun in a news release.

CBC has contacted Natural Resources Canada and the province for response.

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