PEI and Employment Insurance Reform
PEI and Employment Insurance Reform
Submitted By Kevin Mouflier
As the Chief Executive Officer of the Tourism Industry Association of PEI, I am compelled to speak on behalf of our members and the tourism industry on inequities in the Employment Insurance program that have had a negative effect on our PEI workforce for more than five years. It is an issue that I am certain has also been noticed in other seasonal industries such as agriculture and fisheries and it is time for change for the sake of all.
In 2012 the Federal Government under Stephen Harper announced Employment Insurance reforms which had a direct impact on many workers on Prince Edward Island. Frequent claimants would be required to accept any work for which they were qualified as well as accept wages which started at seventy (70) percent of what they had previously been earning. In a province like PEI, where large numbers of workers are employed in seasonal industries, EI claims are a regular occurrence following 12 -14 weeks of seasonal employment. Year round employment can be difficult to obtain, often means lower paying positions and can make supporting a family a difficult proposition. This reform unfairly targeted seasonal and precarious (part time) employees.
As a result of the 2012 reform measures, many Islanders were forced to make the difficult decision to leave their families behind and seek employment off-Island in order to make ends meet, resulting in the loss of qualified employees in seasonal industries such as tourism. Business owners who relied on returning workers who were experienced and a mainstay of their business now faced the task of recruiting and training replacements. As anyone who runs a business can attest, this is an added expense that can severely impact a company’s bottom line and quality of customer service.
On October 12, 2014 further changes to Employment insurance went into effect that also impacted Island seasonal workers and businesses. Previously PEI was classified as one region, meaning that employees need the same number of qualifying hours regardless of their place of residence. The new change saw a two (2) region system take effect: the metropolitan area of Charlottetown — which extends to two sections of the North Shore, and the rest of the province. As of October 8, 2017 “Charlottetown” employees required 665 hours employment to qualify for a minimum of 15 and maximum of 38 payable weeks of EI benefits. The qualifying criteria for employees in the “Prince Edward Island” region now stands at 420 hours for a minimum of 26 and maximum of 45 payable weeks.
The Federal Government’s efforts to bolster rural areas has resulted in a larger than ever rural versus urban divide and simply does not reflect the reality of living and working in our small Island. Owners of seasonal tourism operations in rural locations on PEI often have difficulty attracting local people to available positions and frequently have employees who travel from outside their residential area for jobs. The two region system puts co-workers at the same place of employment, doing the same job and residing only a very short distance apart in competition for qualifying hours. One long time tourism operator in the Cavendish area recently told of the difficulty he experienced in attracting local help and how his loyal employee of 18 years was negatively impacted through the simple fact she lived within the “Charlottetown” region and required more than 240 hours of additional employment than the one young and inexperienced co-worker he had been able to hire who lived close by to the workplace.
While I am speaking out on this issue for the sake of the tourism industry, its business owners and employees, it must also be noted that farm workers often travel to their place of employment, contract workers at the GST Centre in Summerside frequently travel from Queens Country residences and not all fishermen and their crews live in rural communities. The two region EI format affects employees from all industries and it needs to be repealed. Qualifying criteria should revert to a mid-point between 665 and 420 eligible hours and 45 eligible payable weeks.
In 2015 the Liberal Party of Canada published its campaign platform “Real Change: A new Plan for a Strong Middle Class”. Chapter 1 of this 88 page document speaks about Growth for the Middle Class – “We will also reverse Stephen Harper’s 2012 EI reforms that force unemployed workers to move away from their communities and take lower – paying Jobs.” As well, in Chapter 6: Fiscal Planning and Costing, this same document notes “Reverse 2012 EI changes”. This Party platform was supported by all four of the Liberal candidates for Member of Parliament on PEI.
TIAPEI has been raising EI reform as a major issue for the past two years, communicating our position on the EI regions to our four MP’s and asked that they support all workers on PEI in a united front, asking for a return to the one EI region that existed prior to 2014. We have also lobbied for change in numerous presentations to the Federal Government. MP Sean Casey has been very supportive of our efforts and an advocate for reform and PEI MLA Richard Brown’s strong position on the need for change is very welcome. The fact remains that more needs to happen.
It has been over two years since the Liberal Government promised reform and a return to a single EI region for PEI. The message we keep hearing is the matter is under review and it could be another twelve to eighteen months before a decision is reached. This is simply not good enough and I urge employers and employees from all seasonal industries to raise their voices. Contact your Member of Parliament and your local MLA and urge them bring this inequity to an end now.
Kevin Mouflier is the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island.