Line Sirois, Coordinator of Unemployment Action Movement, Côte-Nord
Workers' Forum: What
is the situation for seasonal workers now with regard to access to
Representatives of five member groups of the interprovincial coalition at the EI office in Forestville, June 30, 2021.
Sirois: At the moment, seasonal workers are in a
difficult situation. The government is changing the emergency measures
which means that, starting at the end of September, to be eligible for
EI [Employment Insurance] you have to have 420 hours of work. We are happy that everyone will
be equal in terms of the hours required to be eligible.
However, we will go back to the way it was before, that is to say that
the number of weeks of benefits you receive depends on the unemployment
rate in effect in each region. The North Shore is included in an EI
region in which there are areas that do not have a seasonal industry,
which means that the official unemployment rate in the region as
a whole is much lower than the actual rate on the North Shore. In our
EI region the unemployment rate is currently below six per cent. This
means that a worker in the seasonal industry, as of the end of
September, will receive between 14 and 19 weeks of benefits instead of
the current 50 weeks. If the official unemployment rate on the North
Shore is very low, it is not because employment has picked up and jobs
have been created, but because of the aging of the population which
creates artificially low unemployment rates. The labour force between
16 and 64 years old living on the North Shore keeps decreasing.
The emergency measure which established the requirement of 420
of work to qualify for 50 weeks of benefits was good for workers in the
conditions of the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic is not behind us. The
pandemic is still with us. International tourism is not here. The
Europeans who usually come here as tourists are not here. We
can already see that many businesses are going to have to close their
People are wondering what to do, because the
black hole will come
back, the period when people are not entitled to employment insurance.
It is very stressful. I get a lot of phone calls from people who don't
know what will happen to them. That's really the problem for us. That's
the point we want to hit.
What are your demands in these conditions?
What we are asking for is clear, and we are not
just asking for this for seasonal workers. We want an end to the claim
that we would have to deny benefits to one in order to give to another.
We are asking for 420 hours and 35 weeks of benefits for everyone, that
everyone be equal. We don't want to hear that such and
such an unemployed person who claims benefits every year is profiting
from the system. That is false.
We want everyone to
be treated equally and to receive employment
insurance whether they are seasonal workers, part-time workers or any
other category of workers.
We are currently
building a large interprovincial coalition of
unemployed groups and unions in Eastern Canada. At the moment, the
interprovincial coalition brings together groups of unemployed workers
from the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, the North Shore, the Lower St. Lawrence,
Gaspésie, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as well as
numerous union representatives from the Confederation of National Trade
Unions (CSN) and the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ). We held a joint
action on June 30, a simple action but one that got a lot of attention.
Each committee, regardless of where they were, made a cake for Canada
Day and distributed slices of cake in front of the
Service Canada offices. They made it clear that no one was in the mood
to celebrate and used the action to raise awareness of the current
problems with employment insurance.
This is what we
are going to work on during the election campaign,
not just in Quebec but with others, to make our demands known. We want
the government of Canada to reform employment insurance now. For us,
the time for discussion and consultation is over, the time is for
action. We will hold other mobilization actions in the coming
This article was published in
August 27, 2021 -