Nfld. & Labrador

Seasonal workers anxious about changes to EI system

People who depend on industries that are not year-round are worried about the potential impact of new employment insurance rules rolled out by Ottawa.
Fisherman Ralph Crocker of Trout River says EI is “very important” — possibly more important than his job. (CBC )

Farm work is far from easy, and for Aida Mashari it's about to get tougher.

The organic farmer goes on employment insurance at the end of each season.

She says the new definition of "suitable employment" means people like her will be forced into jobs they don't want to do.

Mashari, who works on a farm in Portugal Cove, says that will deter people from even getting into seasonal work.


"I think we should be encouraging people to do a lot of the work that is currently seasonal," she said. "Maybe figuring out ways of growing food all year, and I feel like that's where the government's energy should be going."

On Newfoundland’s west coast, fisherman Ralph Crocker of Trout River says EI is "very important" — possibly more important than his job.

The new EI rules mean he might have to take a job at even less pay than fishing, and hit the road to get there.

"I’m not making a big living now, let alone traveling an hour from home in a machine to do another job," he said.

The problem is that there aren’t a lot of jobs in the area, apart from fishing.

By its very nature the fishery here is seasonal, and the seasons are getting shorter all the time.

So people like Randy Crocker see EI as the only alternative.

"We're making a living at this," he said. "So why should I pack up and move away and give up what I’ve got? I’ve got a $200,000 boat sitting to the wharf and they want me to go to work to Tim Hortons or somewhere, or Wal-Mart, for $10 an hour. There's something wrong somewhere, with the system."

Political reaction

Outside the legislature in St. John’s Thursday, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she is still assessing the changes to EI.

Organic farmer Aida Mashari says the new definition of suitable employment means trouble for seasonal workers like her. (CBC )

"We certainly need more information than we have," the premier told reporters.

But one item of particular interest to Dunderdale is the impact on seasonal industries.

"I am concerned about the impacts this might have on seasonal workers, particularly the fishery, because I think there are other elements of that discussion that haven’t been fully fleshed out yet," Dunderdale said.

In Ottawa, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley suggested that seasonal workers such as those who work in fish plants need to be working at places like fast food restaurants when they're not regularly employed.

Finley made that comment Thursday when she announced sweeping changes to employment insurance.

The proposed changes mean that some people who collect EI are going to have to be less choosy about the kind of job they'd take. And they may have to accept lower pay as well. 

The longer and more frequently someone collects EI, the stricter the rules are going to be.

The fishing industry may be hard hit by pending changes to EI. (CBC)

Asked about seasonal workers, Finley said: "This is going to impact everyone, because what we want to do is make sure that the McDonald's of the world aren't having to bring in temporary foreign workers to do jobs that Canadians who are on EI have the skills to do.

"It's about taking advantage of the labour and skills that we have in this country, putting it to productive use and doing it in such a way that the employers are better off, but the employee and his or her family is always better off."

Finley says Ottawa believes it’s better to take work that's available than waiting for something better.

In certain circumstances, someone may be required to take any job they are qualified for at 70 per cent of their previous pay.

Finley says people won't be forced people to work outside their area or at a job they're not trained to do.