Feds announce pilot program to address ‘EI black hole’ for New Brunswick seasonal workers

Click to play video 'New Brunswick’s employment insurance black hole' New Brunswick’s employment insurance black hole
Tue, Mar 20: Seasonal workers in New Brunswick are having trouble applying for employment insurance in between jobs – an issue that is being referred to as a black hole for EI. As Adrienne South reports, the federal government and New Brunswick has announced a new pilot program to help those who need it.

New Brunswick workers who experience a gap between their employment insurance and seasonal employment may be eligible for a new federally-funded program that will address the gap for people living in certain regions.

New Brunswickers who work in the fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism sectors in some parts of the province may find relief from what’s being referred to as the “EI black hole,” which is the period when employment benefits run out and seasonal work begins.

The province’s Minister of Labour, Employment and Population Growth Gilles LePage made the announcement alongside Acadie-Bathurst Member of Parliament Serge Cormier in Fredericton on Tuesday.

“While we are pleased to see lower unemployment numbers in areas of the province, the corresponding reduction in the corresponding EI period has been difficult for many families,” LePage said.

The province will be launching a seven-week training program pilot project for season workers in one of the province’s largest regions — the area of Restigouche-Albert.

Story continues below advertisement

The Seasonal Worker Pilot Project includes Restigouche, Gloucester, Northumberland, Kent counties and portions of  Westmorland, York, Sunbury, Queen and Albert Counties.

Employees who have been seasonal workers in those industries for at least two years and meet other criteria will qualify.

READ MORE: N.B. street marijuana cheaper than proposed Cannabis NB store prices, says StatCan survey

“We need the seasonal workers, we need the seasonal industries to make sure that our economy is strong in New Brunswick,” LePage said.

The province is split up into three economic regions: Fredericton-Moncton-Saint john, Madawaska-Charlotte, and Restigouche-Albert.

In Restigouche-Albert, the unemployment rate went from 15.2 per cent in September 2016, down to 11.5 per cent in September 2017.

That drop affected the length of EI benefits, meaning seasonal workers who used to get 30 weeks of benefits experienced a drop to 23 weeks.

“This region was hit really badly, so that’s why we put a program for this region specifically because this was the region that was most impacted,” Cormier said.

The federal government promised $10 million in the 2018-2019 budget for immediate assistance to help workers across the country. They’ve now allotted $2.5 million to help New Brunswickers.

Story continues below advertisement

The pilot project will be offered in two phases, with one from March to June 2018, and the other February to March 2019.

Workers who are impacted by having seven fewer weeks of EI benefits will be able to receive EI replacement while they take general training, or be paid while they are taking training with a partnering employer.

For people to qualify, they need to have had seasonal employment for at least two years in the seasonal sectors and live in that EI region and must be available for training or work placement.

The province is calling this a “short-term” solution while the federal government works on developing a long-term strategy.
LePage said employees who don’t qualify for this pilot program may still be eligible for other programs.

Employees can contact their local employment development office to find out if they’re eligible.

READ MORE: Judge approves $1.3M settlement in lawsuit against N.B. hospital over unsterilized forceps used on women

Employees at Kings Landing feeling impact of ‘black hole’

Kings Landing Historical Settlement employee Claude Gosselin said he and his colleagues have been feeling the impact of the gap in EI benefits.

“Three years ago, [Employment Insurance] was 28 weeks, last year was 23 weeks… and this year, 17 weeks,” Gosselin said.
Story continues below advertisement

Gosselin who lives in Lake George, N.B., said he has been working at the tourist site for 14 years and said this year, his EI benefits ran out on Feb. 16.

“I officially go back on June 9,” Gosselin said. “This year, I’m alright because financially, I put money aside because I knew I had three or four months without employment, but this is hard to live with.”

He said last year, his EI ran out April 7, compared to mid-February this year. Gosselin said even when he starts working on June 9, he won’t actually get paid until the first week of July because of how the pay periods work.

“So it’s another month without getting paid,” Gosselin said. “It’s a long gap in between.”

Gosselin said he’s currently looking into whether or not he and his colleagues qualify for the new program.

According to the province, only residents living in the region will qualify for the program. Gosselin said he has spoken with his employer and they are waiting to hear back from the development office to find out if they qualify.