EI stats drop in Atlantic Canada after changes aimed at seasonal work: economist - Macleans.ca

EI stats drop in Atlantic Canada after changes aimed at seasonal work: economist


ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A disproportionate drop in employment insurance recipients in Atlantic Canada suggests federal EI restrictions are having a negative impact that will only get worse as seasonal industries lay off staff, critics say.

“Those changes target seasonal workers,” said Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers Canadian national office. “We’ve already seen in the data that the number of employment insurance recipients has been cut more sharply in the Atlantic provinces than nationally.

“We’re not seeing a decline in unemployment, but we are seeing a decline in employment insurance,” he said from Regina. “And that would seem to reflect federal policies that are kicking people off benefits.”

Weir said the number of jobless workers has been stuck at around 1.4 million for at least the past year.

Yet, Statistics Canada reports that the number of those receiving EI benefits in July was down almost six per cent across Canada from the year before. That compares to a drop of 11 per cent over the same time period for Newfoundland and Labrador, 16 per cent in P.E.I., 12 per cent in Nova Scotia and nine per cent in New Brunswick.

In Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, the decline in EI benefits for each province was about three per cent.

B.C. had a drop of 11.5 per cent, Manitoba 12 per cent and Saskatchewan seven per cent.

The federal Conservative government says EI changes it implemented in January are a “modest and reasonable” effort to ensure the system is fair and flexible.

Those adjustments do not change eligibility requirements such as the number of insured hours to qualify, says an emailed response from Employment and Social Development Canada. Rather, they clarify long-standing job search requirements for all recipients — including repeat claimants, it says.

“Claimants are only expected to look for work within their communities, no greater than one hour’s commute away. Moreover, personal circumstances are taken into account, such as the availability of public transportation and access to child care.”

Weir says the statistics speak for themselves.

“I do think we’re seeing the consequences of federal cutbacks to EI,” he said.

Lana Payne, Atlantic director of the new Canadian amalgamated union Unifor, said the big question is the extent to which Ottawa will enforce its clarified job search rules this winter.

She says she believes there is an ulterior motive for the push to get seasonal workers off benefits and into often poorly paid, service-sector vacancies.

“These kinds of changes were really about trying to cater to low-wage dependent employers,” she said. “They kind of missed the whole point that perhaps what we need to be doing to attract people to jobs in other communities means that we have to increase the wages to get them there.”

Payne calls it a wrong-headed attempt to get tough on the unemployed.

“I’d rather they get tough on unemployment, quite frankly.”

Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the non-partisan Macdonald-Laurier Institute think-tank in Ottawa, said recent EI changes don’t go far enough.

The program is still “an incredibly unfair, unjust, exploitative system” that subsidizes seasonal employers, he said in an interview.

“And it’s not the people in Atlantic Canada who are being exploited by it. It’s the people in seasonal industries in Atlantic Canada who are exploiting other people who never draw on the system and who expect to work all year to keep themselves and their families in the conditions that they think are appropriate for them.”

Crowley concedes that some industries such as tourism, fishing and agriculture are cyclical. But before EI, workers switched jobs with the seasons, he said.

The option to collect EI benefits rather than work creates a terrible incentive, he added.

“We’ve said to them: ‘Okay, work for a short period of time in one industry and you’re off the hook for the rest of the year.’ And that in itself has created a vast amount of unemployment in Atlantic Canada.”

Crowley said the federal government should charge higher EI premiums to employers who repeatedly lay off staff.

“We have a system in which the seasonality of the economy is not caused by the nature of the industry, but is driven by the incentives within the employment insurance system.”


EI stats drop in Atlantic Canada after changes aimed at seasonal work: economist

  1. A drop in EI recipients is good news, not a problem about which to complain.

    • If all it does is shift the burden to welfare rolls, then nothing is gained (other than downloading the problem from the Feds to the provinces). I wonder if the welfare stats show a corresponding jump?

      • “If” is a big word.

        If even some of the chronically unemployed are induced to become employed, to build up a real work history, to accumulate experience, then everyone will be better off.

        • You really have no idea of the communities you are talking about, do you? Many are slowly dying due to chronic underemployment, and the CPC are basically trying to starve them out of existence, rather than trying to find ways to restore health and vitality to the regions.

          • Not “communities”, but people are important.

          • What do you think communities are made of? After families, they are our most fundamental way of organizing ourselves, and one of the chief cornerstones of many peoples’ identities. Esp. in Atlantic Canada.

          • When communities are not operating to the best interests of the people in them, then people can and should move away from them.

            Like all of the little towns across the prairies situated at elevators built so that any farmer could bring a horse cart of grain into town and make it back to the farm before nightfall.

            Now they can still make it home by nightfall, but they’re driving semi trucks at 100 km/hr and going to the inland terminal that replaced 50 of the old elevators.

          • If you think employment insurance is going to restore health and vitality to any community, you’re delusional. Take a look at native reserves where massive portions of the community live off of welfare. How’s the health and vitality of those communities? It’s abysmal.

            You can’t build up a functioning economy in a region where large parts of the population are dependent on the government to survive. At that point even the private enterprises that exist without government help are in fact dependent on the people who depend on the government.

            We need policies that create an incentive for people to find work, not incentives for people to actively try not to find work. Sure, having more EI recipients may seem like a great idea to bureaucrats who want to expand the roll of the government in our lives. But it’s not going to improve economy, which is what the country needs.

          • I’m not saying EI is the answer (I don’t think it is; rather, I think using it as a substitute for actually doing anything in the line of job stimulation, as successive governments have done, is wrong).
            What I’m saying is that, after years of disastrous neglect, the CPC has decided to go one step further and starve out those who haven’t already moved on. Many of them simply CAN’T AFFORD to move without losing everything they have.
            The NL government does help out with dying communities that elect to close down: they pay them to move, so they can afford to do so (and maybe buy a new home elsewhere). A much more reasonable approach than “starve, you leeches!!!”

          • If there’s a problem with chronic underemployment, encouraging more chronic underemployment by subsidizing it with EI is the very antithesis of a solution.

          • I don’t disagree with you. In fact, I’ve thought that for a long time; it’s a less-than-benign form of neglect. Instead of all the grants to get people enough work to collect their EI for the winter, there should have been REAL programs designed to either attract sustainable business or to close down dying towns (or both). And I blame all three parties who have formed government in the last three decades for the neglect the Atlanic provinces have endured.
            But this latest move is just callous cynicism taken up another degree. Harper has never changed his stripes on his view of Eastern Canadians; now he wants to starve them out.

  2. Crowley is clueless. In other areas of the country some seasonal workers come off EI and pick up other employment because the reasonable paying alternatives are there. A tree planter, or construction worker in BC doesn’t head out to the nearest macdonalds and get to work either.
    Why can’t they be creative? There aren’t enough decent jobs for those collecting EI in the maritimes anyway, so be creative. As a youngster in AB i was allowed to work restoring a post office while looking for work. I received a top up on my UI but no wage. Allow seasonal workers to take low paying jobs while retaining some of the financial and other benefits of EI. There have to be better ways then simply using even a moderate stick.
    The tory changes overlook the importance of seasonal work to the maritimes. Who will fill these skilled jobs if seasonal workers are discouraged from returning to the job the next year. It is about the wages and the availability of good jobs, it is that simple Mr C.

  3. “Crowley concedes that some industries such as tourism, fishing and agriculture are cyclical. But before EI, workers switched jobs with the seasons, he said.”
    All three categories of jobs listed take place in the same seasons. If Crowley is implying they shift between these three then he’s out to lunch. If he suggests they switched to other lines of seasonal work, I’d like to know what those might be. The demand for snow plow operators is only so big.

    • I doubt Crowley has held a seasonal job in his life.

    • What did people do before UI? Remain poor i’d imagine. Although i also imagine there was simply more seasonal work to keep a body busy in those days.

      • Companies that felt they needed to keep their employees around spread out into other endeavours so that they would not have to fire them every year.

        Now companies can exploit the EI system knowing they can just ditch their employees and still expect to be able to find them again later.

        • Are you inferring that seasonal companies did not lay people off prior to EI?
          The point is they aren’t keeping around unskilled employees in the main, because there’s no work. Obviously they want them back. – they need them back. I imagine they would do every thing they could to branch out if circumstances allowed. It’s pretty obvious that often isn’t the case in the maritimes. You expect the fish plant to retool for something else when they’re done? You’re as clueless as Crowley. And how often do seasonal companies in BC spread out into other endeavours? If they do it’s because there’s a market and demand for it.

          • “… because there’s no work…”

            There’s no incentive to create more work since the employees can languish on pogey much of the year.

          • Yes, and exactly the same thing would happen in BC, if there was no alternative. That is my point. You don’t create good paying jobs by forcing people off of EI – you might however help out the low paying service industry.

      • Poverty was much more widespread, yes. Also, in traditional industries, you prepared for the coming season by mending equipment; fed your families by hunting; and kept them warm by logging. Much of the winter seasonal work did not directly earn income; it was aimed at staying alive until the next spring.
        Got that, @GlynnMhor?

  4. Brian Lee Crowley is hardly non-partisan. He headed up AIMS for years. AIMS is slightly to the right of the Fraser Institute, for crying out loud.

    • Right, and a Union economist is entirely non-partisan. How many millions of dollars has the United Steelworkers tried to funnel to the NDP again?

      • So? This article tries to paint Crowley as a non-partisan. That is an error, like your name, notRick.

  5. This is a matter of fairness, and it is simply not fair to the rest that the same people will year after year take far more out of EI than they put in.

    Personally, I think experience rating should be applied. Thus seasonal workers and/or their employers would, based on the individual’s and/or group’s history of claims, pay higher EI premiums than people with an average claim history. This wouldn’t totally eliminate the problem of taking more out of EI than putting in on an ongoing basis, but it would mitigate it. Provinces would be free to pay the differential on behalf of the individuals and/or employers should they see value in so doing.

    • It is certainly how regular insurance programs operate.

      People with high claims histories have high premiums.

    • Now this strikes me as a good idea. Certainly far more creative and useful than just cutting the seasonal workers off and not giving a crap whether they manage to survive or not.

      My one caveat is that I would apply the higher premiums far more vigorously to the employers that have a history of putting people out onto EI than to the people themselves. That way they’re encouraged to figure out a way to have employees working year ’round. After all, supposedly businesses are the innovative and creative ones, right? The ones who are making the jobs? Fine.. lets give them some incentive to actually do that.

      • Employers already get dinged more than employees for EI, and doubly dinged, for people who work more than one job, on both EI and CPP.

        The employee can recover overpayments from the government, but employers cannot.