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Seasonal workers in southwestern N.S. lobbying for changes to EI economic zone

The EI Economic Zones in Nova Scotia. Yellow is Western Nova Scotia. Red is Eastern Nova Scotia. Blue is Halifax. HUMAN RESOURCES AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT CANADA
The EI Economic Zones in Nova Scotia. Yellow is Western Nova Scotia. Red is Eastern Nova Scotia. Blue is Halifax. HUMAN RESOURCES AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT CANADA - Contributed
BARRINGTON, N.S. —

More than 400 signatures have been collected from seasonal fish plant workers in Shelburne and Yarmouth counties, calling on the federal government to re-zone the Employment Insurance (EI) Economic Zone that is Western Nova Scotia.

They feel the zone is too large, putting them at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts throughout the Atlantic region, says spokesperson Mandy Symonds. 

The zone includes much of mainland Nova Scotia: Annapolis County, Colchester County, Cumberland County, Digby County, Hants County, Kings County, Lunenburg County, Pictou County, Queens County, Shelburne County and Yarmouth County.

“We need 630 hours to qualify and our job bank might have two jobs on it,” says Symonds. “We’re not even close to Bridgewater,” she says, as far as employment opportunities go.

While the issue is not new, its impact is heightened this year with cuts to herring quotas meaning less work in the plants over the summer, Symonds says, adding production also ceased on hag fish at a Cape Sable Island plant this year that a lot of people depended on for hours.  

There was also less work last winter with the decrease in lobster landings.  

Symonds says as a seasonal worker the only way she can get enough hours to qualify for EI is by working multiple jobs. 

“A number of us do that.," she says.

During the lobster season Symonds says workers will also come from P.E.I. to help fill the need for workers. 

“They can work alongside us, then go back to P.E.I. where they only need 420 hours to qualify," she says. "It's not fair.”

Nova Scotia used to have five EI Economic Zones, but that was changed to three a number of years ago. In eastern Nova Scotia, 420 hours are needed to qualify for EI, and in the Halifax region the number is 700.

The regional rates of unemployment are produced by Statistics Canada for use by the Employment Insurance program.

“We want the regional boundaries reviewed and changed back to five zones which would make it easier for the seasonal workers to receive EI, based on a smaller economic region,” says Symonds, noting when you include the tourism industry, there are a lot of seasonal jobs in the region.

HELP ON THE WAY?

According to the Liberal Party's campaign platform in the recent federal election, help is supposed to be on the way for seasonal workers. 

“We will make permanent changes to Employment Insurance, to give workers in seasonal industries more reliable support between jobs,” the election platform read.

“Industries like tourism and fish processing are an important source of jobs in many communities, but their seasonal nature means that people are often without work for months at a time, through no fault of their own. To give these workers more security and support, especially when Employment Insurance is disrupted because of changing labour market conditions outside of their control, we will move forward with improvements to a recent pilot project that has given extra help to tens of thousands of workers in seasonal industries.

“Once this pilot concludes, we will introduce a permanent program to give these workers more consistent and reliable benefits – making it easier for them to support themselves and their families between work seasons," the platform read.

“We will also work with Statistics Canada to strengthen local labour market data, so that Employment Insurance can better reflect local labour market realities, especially in large and diverse regions."

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