EI changes, moratorium pose threat

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Premier Robert Ghiz , of P.E.I., left, shakes hands with Premier David Alward of New Brunswick at the end of a Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting in Saint John, N.B. on Monday, May 26, 2014.

Programs closely intertwined in Atlantic region to affect primary industries, especially tourism

Prince Edward Island is being adversely affected by a perfect storm of merging crises that pose a threat to important economic sectors of this province just as the summer tourist season is about to get underway. The worst fears of Atlantic premiers over changes to Employment Insurance were realized, suggests a draft report discussed by the premiers earlier this week in Saint John. P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz has long argued the EI changes must be reversed because of dire consequences for the region, but especially in this province where the major primary industries of agriculture, fisheries and tourism are so dependent on seasonal workers.

The EI changes have greatly reduced or eliminated eligibility claims, forcing hundreds to leave the province for employment elsewhere, mostly to western Canada, while out-migration numbers have hit a record high in P.E.I.

If seasonal workers are forced to leave, the challenge for primary industries would be finding enough people — especially experienced employees — to fill job vacancies this summer. Now Premier Ghiz has placed a dollar figure on the negative impact to P.E.I. — $20 million, a staggering figure which will have a cascading effect through all sectors of the Island economy.

The latest Stats Can figures indicate EI claims continued to decrease dramatically on P.E.I even though the unemployment rate continues to hover just over 11 per cent. One explanation is that workers are leaving for employment elsewhere, thus jeopardizing seasonal industries here.

What has especially angered Atlantic premiers is that Ottawa imposed EI changes unilaterally without consulting the provinces or assessing the impact on this region. The changes were seen as a blatant effort to both reduce EI payments and also supply the labour demands of Alberta oilfields by forcing Atlantic Canadians to move elsewhere for work. Ottawa has achieved its desired goals on both counts and now the Atlantic Provinces are grappling with the fallout.

Another sudden decision by Ottawa also came to a head this week during the annual meeting of Restaurants Canada underway in Charlottetown. Delegates are upset the moratorium imposed on temporary foreign workers in the food service industry is having a devastating impact on their businesses.

Several complaints of abuse, mostly in Western Canada, resulted in Ottawa suspending the program for the food industry. Ottawa set up the program, failed to exercise due diligence to ensure that Canadians would not be adversely impacted, and then acted surprised there was a problem.

The TFW program and EI cuts are actually closely connected in Atlantic Canada. Restaurant delegates said that by halting TFWs from working in the food service industry, it has forced their businesses to curtail hours and days of operation, which means that Canadian employees are also losing money. Seasonal workers who stayed in Atlantic Canada with the hope of making up lost cash this summer, are now being threatened again.

Ottawa’s overreaction comes just as many restaurants and food operations in Atlantic Canada are gearing up for the summer. Restaurants Canada chair Liam Dolan of Charlottetown is demanding a meeting with PM Stephen Harper on the moratorium and to address the crisis of a workers’ shortage in the food service industry. Good luck on that one. If the PM can't control both the agenda and the message, there will be no meeting.

While the present moratorium only affects food service workers, there is a fear that if abuses are reported in other sectors, the entire program might be scrapped in a desperate federal pre-election gamble. That indeed would be disastrous.



Organizations: Employment Insurance, Restaurants Canada

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island Saint John Charlottetown Alberta Atlantic Provinces

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Recent comments

  • Angus
    May 30, 2014 - 09:03

    All these folks complaining that the local businesses do not pay enough. What a laugh! Read the response of Jean who wants to support his family and works all year around to do so. That's what a parent does! He's is not the average however, the average are the people trying to get enough weeks in so they can sit on their arses and encouraged by the government's social programs to do so. We have the highest number of TFWs in Canada because people don't want to work, even in the face of high unemployment on the Island. It's a joke!

    • Mark T
      May 30, 2014 - 16:34

      Well said Angus, I agree with you whole heartedly, and kudos to Jean for supporting his family like any parent should. . The local businesses pay enough if you work year round ,even at minimum wage , collecting 60% of your wages for 6 of those months does not pay the bills. I two have 2 seasonal jobs that pay enough money to keep myself and Wife in comfort, we don't smoke and drink , which cuts down on expenses and gives us a comfortable income. Stop whining islanders and face the facts, you spend too much on cigs and booze and then complain about low wages, just look in the mirror, if you can, and stop expecting someone else to solve YOUR financial hardships. Like the old saying says pull up the boot straps and get back to work.

    May 29, 2014 - 21:08

    You have just stated the real problem on PEI. to many people think of EI as part of their yearly salary, this has been going on since EI started and will take a miracle to change people thinking. Congratulations to you for having enough pride and will power to work at jobs that are probably very demanding and low paid as is the PEI business way of things. Wish we had more like you living here.

  • Garth Staples
    May 29, 2014 - 19:29

    An employed Islander in Alberta does more for the PEI economy than sitting at home drawing pogey.

    May 29, 2014 - 15:23

    We need decent livable wages on PEI , not imported workers who will work for whatever is offered and keep quiet. The biggest threat to PEI is the present Government.

  • Dave
    May 29, 2014 - 14:17

    "If seasonal workers are forced to leave, the challenge for primary industries would be finding enough people — especially experienced employees —"............................this is the part that bugs me. I fished lobster in university, I worked landscaping jobs at golf courses, they are not skilled jobs. The vast-vast majority of seasonal industries are not skilled jobs. You don't need experienced people every year. It really is that simple. Seasonal industries in teh rest of the country manage.....why is PEI an exception? To argue different is just a cop out.

    • jean levevre
      May 29, 2014 - 19:57

      Have to agree with you on this one . Myself and my 3 children moved here from Montreal 7 years ago and I have worked steady all year round to support my family . What I hear at my seasonal jobs is always the same. This talk of getting enough stamps to collect Ei is getting very old. They seem to treat EI as a salary . I agree that it does not take skilled labour for most seasonal jobs, but the jobs are there for those willing to work and not expect a government hand out. I love it here in Summerside and so do my children I just wish there were more year round employment opportunities for me. I Will always find work because I refuse to work just long enough to collect a portion of my regular wages. Islanders need to stop feeling so self entitled to EI and start doing the jobs that employers have, regardless of wages . Stop taking in foreign workers when there are enough people on the island to fill those jobs . Islanders just need to stop feeling like the government owes them something and grow up like the rest of us that do something about it , rather than complain.

  • peperpeper
    May 29, 2014 - 14:13

    Perhaps the times has come for businesses to train their own people and provide long term jobs for those they train instead of trying to be subsidised by EI and skills training dollars. Businesses are just making use of an other form of welfare, and I must say it is beginning to look like one can have more respect for the real suffering welfare recipients than these profit mongers crying about this and that all the time. - Not that they care what anybody thinks of course ., they are too rich for that.

  • mike
    May 29, 2014 - 11:02

    As i agree with the fact that EI should be reversed. There is no reason the ban on TFW should be lifted. Maybe they local businesses should pay the employees a decent wage and not rely on TFW who they can scam, cheat and pay less to.

    • Observer from the East
      May 29, 2014 - 13:54

      I'd have to agree with mike. Reverse EI and start paying local workers a decent wage. It looks bad on this country when we try to exploit so many