Drastic changes to Employment Insurance have been announced.
Under the new EI system, seasonal workers will be considered frequent claimants and will be required to accept any work they are qualified for after collecting EI for seven weeks.
Atlantic premiers have risen to protect their seasonal workers and have opposed the federal government’s changes. Many Atlantic provinces employ seasonal workers in the fishing industry and in the winter months there are no jobs available and workers have no choice but to go on EI.
Farm workers from B.C. and other provinces are the backbone of the agricultural industry. They are seasonal workers that rely on EI benefits when there are no jobs available in the agricultural industry. Harvest workers who earn below minimum wage are taking EI benefits to survive during the winter months and these new regulations will significantly impact them in a negative manner.
Many farm workers do not have a driver’s licence, creating a dependency on labour contractors for transportation to work. They are unable to relocate because of their lack of skills and a majority of them live in a joint family system to survive amongst rising housing costs.
Out of 10,000 harvest workers, approximately 6,000 live on EI. Harvest workers are very vulnerable. If these workers are forced to move to find jobs they won’t survive and it’s difficult to imagine that anyone would offer them a job outside of farm work and on a minimum wage scale.
These new regulations are a direct attack on immigrant workers with tougher conditions placed on people with three or more EI claims or those who have collected EI for more than 60 weeks in the past five years. It is a reality that immigrant farm workers must collect EI in off-season times.
Premier Christy Clark has not spoken out against these new regulations. I urge the premier to protect this vulnerable group of people that add to the multiculturalism and diversity of British Columbia.
Charan Gill, Secretary Treasurer,
Canadian Farmworkers Union