New Brunswick

EI protesters in Tracadie-Sheila block traffic

About 300 people blocked traffic on Main Street in Tracadie-Sheila for several hours on Monday to protest new employment insurance rules.

Protesters are upset about new, stricter rules

A protest against Employment Insurance reforms drew a crowd of about 300 people in Tracadie-Sheila on Monday. (CBC)

About 300 people blocked traffic in Tracadie-Sheila for several hours on Monday to protest new employment insurance rules.

It's the third protest on the Acadian Peninsula in the past five days and one of several held across the province in recent months.

The protesters say they have no plans to stop, with another demonstration planned for Tuesday.

During Monday's protest, hundreds gathered on Main Street at about 7 a.m., burning tires and blocking off access to local businesses.

RCMP officers were keeping a close eye on the situation from both the ground and the sky. An RCMP helicopter kept watch over the protest.

The protesters said they blocked businesses because they want local employers to support them in their efforts.

Under the EI changes, protestors said seasonal workers will be cutting back on their shopping and won't be going out.

The new rules, which took effect on Jan. 6, require frequent EI claimants, such as seasonal workers, to do more to prove they are looking for work.

Under the reforms, announced in May, repeat claimants may also have to accept jobs that could pay 30 per cent less than their normal wages and be located an hour's drive from home away.

"Ask Steve Harper to have a heart and scrap the changes," said Michel Boudreau, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour.

Sandy Harding, CUPE president for educational support staff, said many already earn salaries at the poverty line at $17,000 a year.

Harding, a school administrative assistant, has been collecting EI for the last 20 years when school's out.

"What employer is going to invest in me, train in me, for me to go back to my job that's there 10 months out of the year? It just makes no sense," she said.

Daniel Légère, president of CUPE New Brunswick, said there will be long-term consequences to the changes.

"For some who choose not to go out west, what's going to happen to them? Like our educational support staff, will they be forced to go on welfare during the summer, because there's no employment for them in their communities, and their EI is cut off?"

New Brunswick, which has a lot of seasonal industries, is traditionally one of the most heavily dependent provinces on the EI program.

In the past year, there was an average of 35,019 EI clients each month, with the number reaching as high as 45,830.

In December, about 200 people occupied the Service Canada office in Tracadie-Sheila to protest the reforms.