December 13, 2018

The Rights of Unemployed Workers
Must Be Recognized and Upheld

Seasonal Workers in Quebec and
New Brunswick Demand Adequate
Employment Insurance Benefits


Demonstration by seasonal workers in Tracadie, September 15, 2018.

Line Sirois, Coordinator, Action Chômage Côte-Nord
Fernand Thibodeau, Spokesperson, Action Committee on Employment
Insurance for Seasonal Workers in New Brunswick

Opposition to Back-to-Work Legislation
Postal Workers and Allies Take Action Against Bill C-89

Ontario Injured Workers Demand Justice
Spirited Actions Affirm "Workers' Comp Is a Right"

The Rights of Unemployed Workers Must Be Recognized and Upheld

Seasonal Workers in Quebec and New Brunswick Demand Adequate Employment Insurance Benefits

On December 4, unemployed groups, unions, municipal elected officials and seasonal industry employers from the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick and the Charlevoix, Côte-Nord and Bas-St-Laurent regions of Quebec, held a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, to highlight the difficult conditions experienced by seasonal workers and to call for solutions that enable them to live in dignity.

In particular, they addressed the federal government's recent decision to grant five weeks of additional employment insurance benefits to workers in 13 regions that have a higher proportion of seasonal claimants and higher than average unemployment rates in 2017.[1] They said that this pilot project is totally insufficient to cover even the immediate needs of seasonal workers to enable them to avoid the "black hole," the period during which workers have exhausted their benefits and are not yet back to their seasonal work. It should be noted that this pilot project only applies to seasonal workers who, in the previous five years, had at least three claims in which they received regular or fishing benefits. In addition, at least two of those claims must have started around the same time of year. Many seasonal workers in targeted regions will not even be eligible for these five weeks.

The groups participating in the press conference called for a revision of the Employment Insurance system to redefine the regions on the basis of actual conditions, so that regions with a predominantly seasonal industry are declared protected areas and provided with exceptional measures: an eligibility criterion of 420 hours, a floor of 35 weeks of benefits and a divisor of 12 so that the best 12 weeks of wages would be used to assess the seasonal worker's benefits. The amount of the benefit is currently set at 55 per cent of the wage.

The federal government has not responded, other than by its usual words that it has already given a lot to the Employment Insurance system and is "listening" to the demands and concerns of the workers.

It has not taken any responsibility for the development of these regions, to ensure they have a diversified economy, with a vibrant manufacturing sector, social programs and public services, where workers and local people have a decisive say in the development of the economy.

The government has also taken no responsibility for the development of a universal Employment Insurance plan where the conditions of eligibility and the duration and benefit amounts would be such that all workers would be assured that they could live decently at a modern standard.

Neither has it taken responsibility to eliminate the blatant arbitrariness by which EI economic regions are established, regardless of the real conditions of the economy and of the workers. An arbitrary unemployment rate is then given to the region for a given period. This situation destabilizes the lives of the workers as it constantly changes the conditions of eligibility, duration and amount of benefits, which particularly affects seasonal workers.

Finally, the government has taken no responsibility to address the demand of seasonal workers to redefine regions, and to protect regions where seasonal industry predominates.

The organizers of the press conference left Parliament determined to continue and expand the battle for the rights of unemployed workers.

The unemployed must receive compensation that allows them to live at a Canadian standard. It was not the workers who destroyed the manufacturing sector in their regions and created these unstable conditions in their economy. The standard of living of workers and communities must be supported as a matter of justice and reparation from a system that does not provide a means of subsistence for all. This is what the federal government wants to avoid with its consultations and statements that it "understands the situation of the unemployed." It wants to find ways to maintain the regime's arbitrariness and force workers to move in the name of what it calls "labour mobility," "flexibility," and other expressions that are meant to cover up anti-social anti-worker arrangements. What it means in fact is the uprooting of people to create a disposable workforce for the benefit of the monopolies.

This is unacceptable and must not pass.


1. The thirteen regions targeted by this measure are:

Bas-Saint-Laurent -- Côte-Nord (Quebec)
Central Quebec
Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island)
Chicoutimi-Jonquiere (Quebec)
Eastern Nova Scotia
Gaspésie -- Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Quebec)
Madawaska -- Charlotte (New Brunswick)
Newfoundland / Labrador (excludes capital)
North Western Quebec
Prince Edward Island (excludes capital)
Restigouche -- Albert (New Brunswick)
Western Nova Scotia
Yukon (excludes capital)

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Line Sirois, Coordinator,
Action Chômage Côte-Nord

Actions were held at Service Canada offices in a number of locations in Quebec on November 29, 2018 to demand action. The above actions were in Forestville (left) and Baie Comeau.

The problem is not solved for seasonal workers who have not worked enough weeks to avoid the black hole. For these workers, the EI benefits end before they go back to work. We are facing this phenomenon in many parts of Quebec and the rest of Canada, especially in Eastern Canada. There has been a new announcement of five more weeks of benefits for a number of EI economic regions, but that is not enough. Here on Côte-Nord, if people work 530 hours as required to qualify for Employment Insurance, they receive 17 weeks of benefits. If we add five weeks, that's 22, but it still falls several weeks short of the time for which workers have no income. The government has put training in place for these workers, but we are telling the government that training is not what we need, we have the right to get what we need to live. Workers should not be penalized because they do not control when work begins and ends. When winter comes, many people no longer have access to their jobs. Nobody is able to live with a black hole. Heating, electricity, groceries, you have to pay for them even if you have no income.

We went to Ottawa on December 4 and we asked all the opposition parties to support us in denouncing the situation and asking the government to give more. We had with us groups of unemployed people, unions, the mayor of Tadoussac, a worker from Tadoussac who came to denounce the situation because this situation will put companies at risk, it will create a terrible shortage of labour because people are leaving the area. The migration from the region is very high, one of the largest in Quebec. The population here is aging, so we have big problems with labour shortages, especially during the active period, which is the summer period. The Liberals gave us the same kind of words they always do. They say that they have already done a lot for Employment Insurance, that they have already given to seasonal workers. They did not make any commitments.

What we got with these five additional weeks is a bandage on the wound. Five weeks is not enough because our real unemployment rate is terribly falsified by the statistics. It is an unacceptable prejudice, that the situation is calculated according to the unemployment rate that is established according to the EI economic region of which we are part, which has nothing to do with the actual unemployment rate on the Haute Côte-Nord. The government has established the region's unemployment rate at 7 per cent while the real unemployment rate for the Haute Côte-Nord is 20 per cent. It is a false calculation, which does not take into account the jobs that exist in the region.

We are asking that areas with seasonal economies be declared protected areas and that seasonal workers in these regions benefit from exceptional measures: 420 hours of work to qualify, 35 weeks of benefits and a divisor of 12 weeks. Our entire coalition has that same demand.

Our coalition is growing all the time. We were only the North Shore, now we have Charlevoix, the National Council of the Unemployed (CNC), regions like the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick that have the same problem as us. Other regions throughout Eastern Canada have a similar problem. If we have to bring all those people together to get the government to listen we are going to do it. We will not give up. We will keep fighting.

November 29, 2018 actions in (left to right) Rimouski, Tracadie and La Malbaie.

(Translated from the original French by Workers' Forum)

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Fernand Thibodeau, Spokesperson,
Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers in New Brunswick

  A public assembly of seasonal workers on the Acadian Peninsula and in rural areas of New Brunswick, held September 10, 2018 in Inkerman, formalized an alliance between workers in Quebec and New Brunswick to wage a common fight to eliminate the Black Hole.

We have a problem here called the black hole. We are part of a region that is called Restigouche-Albert, which is very large and reaches almost to Moncton, includes the entire Acadian Peninsula and almost goes to Campbellton. This is an EI region that has not been studied by the federal government for 10 years, which must be revised, because it does not correspond to the actual conditions of the seasonal industry. Under the current conditions of the statistically-established unemployment rate for the region, workers must work 490 hours to receive 23 weeks of employment insurance. This does not correspond to the reality of work in the fishing industry, picking blueberries, the peat industry, construction and even tourism that do not function in the winter. People cannot get reasonable employment insurance, so they live in the black hole.

We held a lot of demonstrations, did a lot of interviews. We have organized activities to raise the awareness of the federal government and to make the provincial government aware because if the economy is sick in a province, I think it is up to the provincial doctor to knock on the door of the federal specialist to find a solution to the problem of the economy that we are facing here. Seasonal workers represent 60 per cent of New Brunswick's economy. The economy is not in good shape. The province has to do something too. It affects everyone's situation.

We are asking the federal government to review the Restigouche-Albert region, and to revise all regions, and to make protected areas in regard to seasonal industry when this industry is largely predominant, with 420 hours of work to qualify tor EI, 35 weeks of benefits and a divisor of 12 weeks.

We do not agree that the government, which is not the one that finances the EI system, is putting punitive systems in place and making decisions that are inappropriate for seasonal workers. Our population is aging, many people are retiring. The region as it is defined statistically is much too big. It has to be studied again and revised. Many people are losing their homes, their cars; many are in a state of crisis. The government must act quickly for seasonal regions. With respect to training programs, they do not reflect what is happening in the seasonal economy. They do nothing to fix the problem of the black hole.

(Translated from the original French by Workers' Forum)

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Opposition to Back-to-Work Legislation

Postal Workers and Allies Take Action
Against Bill C-89

Picket outside Canada Post's AGM, Ottawa, December 12, 2018.


Postal workers and their allies are continuing their ongoing campaign demanding that Bill C-89, the legislation ordering postal workers back to work, be withdrawn and the contract with Canada Post be settled by negotiations and not government dictate.

On December 12, more than one hundred people gathered at Canada Post Headquarters in Ottawa to demand that Canada Post listen to the just demands of postal workers. At 1:30 pm, Canada Post was holding its Annual General Meeting and postal workers, accompanied by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Unifor, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, the Union of Postal Communications Employees as well as executive officers from the Canadian Labour Congress and the Ottawa District Labour Council marched to Canada Post to have their say about the violation of their right to negotiate their wages and working conditions.

Picket outside Canada Post's AGM, Ottawa, Decmber 12, 2018, is addressed by former CUPW President Jean-Claude Parrot.

Speakers from the unions present, as well as community groups, expressed their full solidarity with the fight postal workers were waging against the Trudeau government's imposition of Bill C-89 which interferes in the negotiations process and criminalizes the workers.

Mike Palacek, National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, emphasized that postal workers had just gone through 36 days of rotating strikes, now declared illegal by the Trudeau government, but the struggle was not over. He vowed that the union, with its allies all over the country, would continue the fight for health and safety, proper wages and elimination of precarious work at the post office.

Ottawa, December 11, 2018.

On December 11, postal workers from Gatineau and Ottawa and members of community groups picketed a Liberal Party fundraising event at the Canadian Museum of History.

At one point, Greg Fergus, Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer, spoke with the workers to convince them that the arbitration process would be beneficial for the workers. This was angrily rejected by the workers who pointed out that it is their right to have a say in their working conditions and this was being violated by the dictate of the Liberal Government.

Picket outside MP Bratina's office, Hamilton, December 6, 2018.

In Hamilton the Labour Council organized a picket outside of Liberal MP Bob Bratina's office on December 6. Postal workers, United Steelworkers Local 1005, OSSTF and others gathered to let the Liberal government know they oppose the back-to-work legislation.

Speaking at the action President of the Hamilton and District Labour Council Anthony Marco stated that this legislation denying postal workers their right to strike is an attack on the rights of all workers and opposing it is everyone's fight.

Randy Drees, Second Vice-President of CUPW Local 548 Hamilton pointed out that the Trudeau government is sending the postal workers back to the same unsafe working conditions and inequality that they have been negotiating to correct for over a year. Far from addressing the workers' legitimate concerns, the government is addressing those of corporate giants like Amazon and eBay who told Trudeau they do not want their profits touched.

Dennis Van Meer, Vice President of United Steelworkers Local 1005, noted Trudeau claims the back to work legislation was necessary because the rotating strikes were hurting the economy. GM announced the closure of the Oshawa auto plant. This hurts the economy. The Trudeau government has negotiated a new NAFTA agreement, the USMCA, without the removal of the tariffs on steel and aluminium. This hurts the economy. Where is the defence of the rights and well being of the workers, he asked.

Postal workers and their supporters have vowed to carry on the fight against this unjust legislation and further actions are planned across the country.

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Ontario Injured Workers Demand Justice

Spirited Actions Affirm "Workers' Comp Is a Right"

Toronto, December 10, 2018


Rallies and pickets on Monday, December 10 in Toronto, Barrie, Thunder Bay and London kicked off the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Group's (ONIWG) week of actions across the province held as part of their ongoing "Workers' Comp Is a Right!" campaign. Actions took place in Niagara, Hamilton and Windsor on December 11 and 12  and the week wraps up in Sudbury with a picket at the WSIB on Friday, December 14.

In Toronto some 150 people participated in a rally outside the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Injured worker activists from the ONIWG were joined by contingents from the Toronto Council of the United Steelworkers, UFCW, OPSEU, the Toronto local of CUPW, the South Asian Women's Rights Organization and the Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L), among others.

The December action returned to the Ministry of Labour this year after two years at other locations to express the determination of injured workers to fight the Conservative government's attacks on workers' rights. In the case of injured workers, this has taken the form of $1.5 billion in premium rebates to employers, while more and more injured workers are denied the compensation they are due.

Throughout the rally both the injured workers and union representatives who spoke gave many examples of the ways in which the claims of injured workers are being denied, and their doctors' advice ignored to the serious detriment of their health. They emphasized the importance of fighting from the starting point that workers have a right to full compensation when injured and a right to the health care they require to recover fully.

ONIWG President Willie Noiles pointed to the police presence at the action for the first time, including the unsuccessful attempt to keep the rally off the Ministry of Labour's stairs, and the fact the Minister of Labour did not attend, as indicative of the contempt which the current Ontario government has for injured workers and working people.

The speaker from OPSEU, who works as a health and safety inspector, pointed out that when the Premier speaks of cutting back on 350,000 regulations to make "Ontario Open for Business," when it comes to health and safety regulations, each one is written in the blood of workers who have been injured or killed on the job. The regulations are there to save lives and the government workers will not stand by while these regulations are eliminated, he said.

A speaker from CUPW was warmly welcomed in recognition of the determined fight the postal workers are waging. She pointed out that one of the main questions on which postal workers would not back down during the past year in negotiations was their determination to improve their health and safety conditions. Due to restructuring by Canada Post they now have the highest injury rate in the federal sector. The back-to-work legislation brutally forced them back into these exact same unsafe working conditions.






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