PEI

'Punished for being poor': Charlottetown man fed up with EI zoning on P.E.I.

A Charlottetown man is fighting to put an end to the Island's two-zone Employment Insurance system, saying he's being "punished for being poor" as a result of the switch.

'I will stand in front of a judge with my knees knocking and I will tell him the same story'

Carl Phillis estimates the change from a single EI zone to dual zones several years ago is costing him $1,500 to $2,000 per year and that he has to work 19 weeks for just 14 weeks of EI. (Richie Bulger/CBC)

A Charlottetown man is fighting to put an end to the Island's two-zone Employment Insurance system, saying he's being "punished for being poor" as a result of the switch.

Carl Phillis, a seasonal cemetery caretaker, estimates the change to dual EI zones several years ago is costing him $1,500 to $2,000 per year and that he has to work 19 weeks for 14 weeks of EI.

This has left him scrambling to make ends meet between the time his EI cheques run out and when he has to start work again.

"For five months, I have very little income coming in. Very little. I've been teaching one pottery class a week, that's been giving me $50 a week — that's ended," he told Island Morning.

"I've got a GST cheque. Luckily, I got some income tax back. That's going to at least get me closer to when I'm supposed to start at work, but it has been very very tough."

"What I'm running into a lot is a lot of passing the buck. The federals pass it on to the provincial, visa versa.— Carl Phillis

Back in 2014, the Harper government split the Island into two zones, which meant residents in rural parts of the province could get benefits for a longer period of time having worked fewer hours. That's considered zone one.

Charlottetown, stretching to the North Shore, falls under zone two and workers in this zone have to work more hours than they did previously. This has led to a bigger punch to seasonal workers like Phillis, who live in Charlottetown.

As a result of the change in 2014, there's been a seemingly endless debate between the provincial and federal governments about switching it back to a single zone. Reversing the Conservative switch was also a pledge made by the Island's four Liberal MPs on the campaign trail in the last election.

The Charlottetown EI region, created in 2014, actually stretches all the way to the province's North Shore. The rest of the province is in a separate zone known as the P.E.I. region (Government of Canada)

"What I'm running into a lot is a lot of passing the buck. The federals pass it on to the provincial, visa versa," Phillis said.

"Really the courts should have a look at this … I will stand in front of a judge with my knees knocking and I will tell him the same story."

"We are being punished for being poor."

Phillis has been writing letters to politicians, including the Prime Minister's Office, federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos, and Premier Wade MacLauchlan's office.

Training program a 'partial fix'

The weeks without a cheque between when the employment insurance runs out and before a person is scheduled to start work again has been called a "black hole" by the Trudeau Liberals.

In the 2018 budget, in an attempt to address the issue, the federal government announced a two-year "partial fix" to the black hole, Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said. That includes $230 million over two years for the labour market development agreement to fund a new training program that workers can access.

'The money is there for the provinces to come up with a program to get that money into the hands of the people in that situation,' Sean Casey says. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

A further $10 million is also being reallocated to provide immediate income support and training to affected workers.

The plan is, over those two years, to develop a long-term solution for seasonal workers in industries such as tourism and fish processing.

"The money is there for the provinces to come up with a program to get that money into the hands of the people in that situation," Casey said.

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With files from Island Morning