As CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island, I am compelled to speak on behalf of our members and the industry on inequities in the Employment Insurance program that have had a negative effect on our P.E.I. workforce for more than five years. It is an issue that I am certain has also been noticed in other seasonal industries such as agriculture and fisheries.
In 2012 the previous Conservative government announced Employment Insurance reforms, which had a direct impact on many workers on P.E.I. Frequent claimants would be required to accept any work for which they were qualified as well as accept wages which started at 70 percent of what they had previously been earning.
In a province like P.E.I., where large numbers of workers are employed in seasonal industries, EI claims are a regular occurrence following 12 -14 weeks of seasonal employment. Year round employment can be difficult to obtain, often means lower paying positions and can make supporting a family a difficult proposition. This reform unfairly targeted seasonal and part time employees.
Many Islanders were forced to leave their families behind and seek employment off-Island, resulting in the loss of qualified employees in seasonal industries such as tourism. Business owners, who relied on returning workers who were experienced and a mainstay of their business, now faced the task of recruiting and training replacements. This is an added expense that can severely impact a company’s bottom line and quality of customer service.
On Oct. 12, 2014 further changes to Employment insurance went into effect that also impacted Island seasonal workers and businesses. Previously P.E.I. was classified as one region, meaning that employees need the same number of qualifying hours regardless of their place of residence. The new change saw a two (2) region system take effect: the metropolitan area of Charlottetown — which extends to two sections of the North Shore, and the rest of the province. As of October 8, 2017 “Charlottetown” employees required 665 hours employment to qualify for a minimum of 15 and maximum of 38 payable weeks of EI benefits. The qualifying criteria for employees in the “Prince Edward Island” region now stands at 420 hours for a minimum of 26 and maximum of 45 payable weeks.
Federal efforts to bolster rural areas resulted in a larger than ever rural versus urban divide and simply does not reflect the reality of living and working in our small Island.
Owners of seasonal tourism operations in rural locations on P.E.I. often have difficulty attracting local people to available positions and frequently have employees who travel from outside their residential area for jobs. The two-region system puts co-workers at the same place of employment, doing the same job and residing only a very short distance apart in competition for qualifying hours.
It must also be noted that farm workers often travel to their place of employment, contract workers at the GST Centre in Summerside frequently travel from Queens Country and not all fishermen and their crews live in rural communities. The two-region EI format needs to be repealed. \
In 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada published its campaign platform which promised to reverse the EI reforms.
TIAPEI has been raising EI reform for the past two years to Ottawa our four MP’s and asked that they support a return to the one EI region that existed prior to 2014. MP Sean Casey has been very supportive of our efforts and an advocate for reform and P.E.I. MLA Richard Brown’s strong position on the need for change is very welcome. The fact remains that more needs to happen.
It has been over two years since the federal government promised reform and a return to a single EI region for P.E.I. The message we keep hearing is the matter is under review and it could be another 12 to 18 months before a decision is reached. This is simply not good enough and I urge employers and employees from all seasonal industries to raise their voices.
- Kevin Mouflier is the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island.