Line Sirois, Coordinator of Unemployment Action Movement, Côte-Nord

Workers' Forum: What is the situation for seasonal workers now with regard to access to employment insurance?

Representatives of five member groups of the interprovincial coalition at the EI office in Forestville, June 30, 2021.

Line 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 hours 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 doors.

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.

WF: What are your demands in these conditions?

LS: 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 period.

(Translated from the original french by Workers' Forum. Photos: Action-Chômage Côte-Nord)

This article was published in

August 27, 2021 - No. 75

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