New EI requirements have some Islanders scrambling for more work
Drop in unemployment rate pushes up number of working hours needed to qualify
A rare increase to the number of working hours required to receive employment insurance has left some Islanders trying to find more work, just as many seasonal jobs wrap up on the Island.
For more than a year, Islanders living outside the Charlottetown region have needed just 420 hours of work to qualify for EI.
This month, the number of qualifying hours jumped to 490, as the area's unemployment rate fell below 12 per cent.
"A lot of people will have problems with this, especially seasonal workers," said Eva Arsenault, who only works full-time in the summer, making bath products in Tignish, P.E.I.
"When fishing is over, and tourism wraps up, the work is pretty much over. So this time of year, where do you go?"
MLA worried about impact on students
Hal Perry, the MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road, says he's concerned about college and university students, who are counting on drawing EI during the school year through the province's Career Connect program.
All year, Perry says he's been telling some students they'd need just 420 hours of work to qualify for EI.
When fishing is over, and tourism wraps up, the work is pretty much over. So this time of year, where do you go?- Eva Arsenault, seasonal worker in Tignish
"So I was concerned when the number of hours required went up by 70 hours this month," said Perry. "This hit two weeks before post-secondary students go back to school. And I want to make sure students have the heads up, that if they need any extra hours, we will give them every opportunity we can to help them acquire those hours."
Perry says he's also heard concerns from Islanders whose wages are subsidized through government's Employment Development Agency.
As it stands, the agency only arranges employment for 12 weeks, or 480 hours.
"But I've been assured those individuals will have the extra hours required to draw EI," said Perry.
'This could bring your EI income way down'
The area's lower unemployment rate may also mean smaller EI cheques for some Islanders.
The federal government had been calculating the amount EI recipients outside the Charlottetown area earn, based on their best 14 weeks of income.
Now, that calculation is based on 16 weeks.
"16 weeks is four months of work, and sometimes you just don't get four months of work working seasonally," said Arsenault.
She said she worries what will happen for seasonal employees who have weeks with no income.
"You could have four zeros factored in, so this could bring your EI income way down."
'This hit two weeks before post-secondary students go back to school'- Hal Perry, Tignish-Palmer Road MLA
Arsenault has been told by her employer, Tignish Initiatives, that she will be kept on long enough to ensure she has at least 16 weeks of work.
"I'm very lucky. But there's businesses that can't give the extra weeks," she said.
Meanwhile, the Charlottetown region's unemployment rate has actually increased slightly over the past few months.
However, with a rate just over 7 per cent, Islanders in that region still require significantly more working hours — 630 — to qualify for EI. Their EI payments are calculated based on 20 weeks.
The unemployment rate and EI qualifying criteria in both regions will be recalculated on Sept. 9.