Interview: Line Sirois, Coordinator — North Shore Unemployment Action Movement
Actions at Service Canada offices in in Forestville (left) and Baie Comeau Quebec on November 29, 2018 demanded action to eliminate the black hole faced by seasonal workers.
The biggest problem is lack of access to Employment Insurance [EI]. It manifests itself in various ways.
For example, even though people are increasingly getting sick, they are only entitled to 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits. There’s the problem of the black hole, that period of time when the unemployed, having exhausted their benefits and not yet working again, are without an income. It’s a problem that affects regions such as ours, where seasonal work is the norm. Even though the government has agreed to five additional weeks of benefits to deal with the problem of the black hole, it does not suffice in addressing the period when the unemployed are without an income.
On the North Shore, the calculation used to determine employment insurance eligibility, with its distorted unemployment rates, poses a very big problem. As Employment Insurance is offered based on the official unemployment rate, more work hours are required and fewer weeks of benefits accorded, based on the economic region’s official EI unemployment rate. The declared unemployment rate has nothing to do with the region’s actual rate. The North Shore is incorporated into an EI economic region that includes several administrative regions. On the Upper North Shore, for example, the actual unemployment rate is around 20 per cent. However, in the economic region we have been included in, we are told that the unemployment rate is around 6.7 per cent. If the unemployment rate for the Upper North Shore were recognized as being 20 per cent, as it actually is, people would qualify after 420 hours of work and be entitled to 35 weeks of benefits. Currently, given the official unemployment rate attributed to us, people qualify, after 665 hours of work, for only 15 weeks of benefits. It makes no sense.
width=”48%”/>The numbers are being fudged to give us as little as possible, so that our people leave the region and go to work elsewhere. It’s a deliberate move to get us to leave the region. They refer to it as labour mobility. They want people migrating to where the jobs are.
It also makes no sense that people who get sick only receive 15 weeks of employment insurance. The sickness benefit is limited to 15 weeks across Canada. We are demanding that the sickness benefit be increased to 25 weeks and in the case of a more serious illness such as cancer, that it be increased to 50 weeks.
We are demanding that, in regions such as ours, where seasonal work is the norm, people qualify for EI after 420 hours of work, for 35 weeks of benefits, at a rate of 60 per cent of their wage, rather than the current rate of 55 per cent.
We are demanding that, in regions such as ours where seasonal work is the norm, people qualify for EI after 420 hours of work, for 35 weeks of benefits, at a rate of 60 per cent of their wage, rather than the current rate of 55 per cent.
Employment Insurance is not adapted to real life, whether in the regions or in the city, where people work in precarious jobs, often for 15-20 hours a week. They cannot make ends meet with that and it takes them a lot of time to make up the hours to qualify for benefits.
Employment Insurance is in need of a complete overhaul. It’s a system that does not reflect the reality or meet workers’ needs. Employment Insurance must be an insurance available to all workers when there are not enough jobs.