Public Meeting on Employment Insurance and issues for workers at Shelburne Fire Hall on October 21 at 6:30 pm

October 20, 2023

Recent reports have shed light on the mounting challenges workers face in seasonal industries, drawing attention to the intensified struggle experienced in regions heavily reliant on seasonal labour. Danny Cavanagh, the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and Pierre Laliberté, the Workers Commissioner for E.I. from Ottawa, will be in Shelburne on Saturday, October 21st, at the Shelburne Fire Hall at 6:30 pm to hear issues from E.I. recipients in light of the struggling fisheries sector, which has seen noticeable declines in various fisheries, including crabs and lobsters. Southern Nova Scotia is currently grappling with a difficult lobster harvest season.

We believe that swift action is needed to protect the rights and livelihoods of these workers and provide them with the necessary support during these challenging times. Cavanagh explains, “The situation has generated significant uncertainty in these regions and directly impacted the workers’ ability to accumulate sufficient hours to qualify for Employment Insurance (E.I.) benefits. Although there were hopes that specific reforms would address these challenges, Federal government priorities have diverted attention elsewhere after many promises and consultations on the modernization of E.I.

Pierre Laliberté, the Workers Commissioner, says that since its introduction in 2018, the unemployment rate in the targeted regions of Eastern Canada has decreased by nearly 3.3 percent. This drop has not made more jobs available as fewer people are looking for work. As a consequence of this drop, however, benefit entitlement has decreased, making it more difficult for workers to qualify or be covered adequately.  

A turndown in the fishing sector means it has become increasingly challenging for workers to qualify for E.I. benefits. When they do, they receive fewer weeks of entitlement at a lower benefit level. For example, in early October, the hours were 700, and the best weeks were 22; in HRM, the hours were 665 hours and 21 best weeks.

We cannot allow the big picture in unemployment rates, which may appear positive to many. Still, workers in the small fishing communities need help to get employment to bridge them to get E.I. Some of the hardest-hit sub-regions are nested within E.I. regions with different economic regions, such as Southern Nova Scotia. Despite persistent requests for revisions to the E.I. boundaries in these regions, they are no longer acceptable.

Cavanagh says workers in the area have also raised concerns about the inappropriate use of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, with local workers needing help to secure work hours and witnessing TFWs frequently receiving shift priority. He advocates for enhanced oversight in the fish processing industry to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate requests for TFW to maintain integrity within the system.

Considering that the last budget did not include the anticipated E.I. reform and the situation in these regions is projected to worsen in the coming months, it is crucial to respond appropriately. That’s why we need to hear directly from workers in the area. Winter is coming, and people will need an income. One possible solution would be to amend the current pilot project or establish a new one, utilizing the Employment Insurance Commission’s prerogatives under Part V of the E.I. Act. It is important to remember that the existing pilot project is already five years old and has undergone recommendations and evaluations. Consequently, proposing changes at this stage would be a reasonable action.

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