In 2023, seasonal workers in Newfoundland and Labrador faced an unforeseen financial crisis when the unemployment rate for the region decreased just as the fishing season was winding down. The result was a change in the EI divisor, meaning claimants suddenly required more weeks of work for a maximum claim. Despite our members’ pleas for help, a mere 4-week extension was provided to a small segment of impacted seasonal workers. FFAW-Unifor therefore is calling on the federal government to table a legislative change prior to the 2024 fishing season such that all seasonal workers will have their EI divisor calculated based on the date they start work, rather than when they file their claim. 

Moreover, FFAW-Unifor is asking our federal MPs to ensure fish harvesters are included in the federal definition of seasonal workers when it comes to divisor calculations and future benefit extensions. Last year, fish harvesters were offered absolutely no help from the federal government despite facing the most challenging economic year since the 1992 cod moratorium. 

“Seasonal workers in our province are experiencing a difficult winter as their payments have been reduced and their weeks slashed due to an EI system that no longer works for working people and a federal government that failed to respond to several informed requests for relief measures,” says FFAW-Unifor President Greg Pretty. “The opportunity is still there to prevent this same crisis from happening again come August and September,” Pretty warns. 

“Moving the divisor date to when our working season begins, rather than when we file our claims, will provide predictability and better financial sustainability for seasonal workers,” says Doretta Strickland, FFAW-Unifor Vice President and plant worker at OCI International in Triton. “What happened last year took thousands of workers completely off-guard, and people were unable to suddenly get additional hours and weeks of work when there was no more fishery left to work at. This means most people are experiencing income shortages of up to $400 a month or $800 for a dual seasonal worker household,” Strickland explains.

The 4-week extension announced by the federal government after months of promises did not apply to many seasonal workers, including all fish harvesters and those who filed their claim before September 10, 2023. The announcement also did not address the reduction in payments.

“Seasonal work is still full-time work, and thousands of processing plant workers average 70 or 80 hours per week over the fishing season. It’s very difficult work, and it’s important work for the long-term sustainability of hundreds of rural communities in our province,” says Barry Randell, FFAW-Unifor IRO Council Member and plant worker at Ocean Choice International in Bonavista.

“The fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador contributes over $1 billion annually, and seasonal work in general is vital to the Canadian economy. It’s time for these workers to stop being treated as second class citizens by our federal government,” Pretty says. “Enterprise owners are facing an increased risk of bankruptcy, particularly those who entered the industry more recently. Factors like fuel prices, interest rates, and CEBA repayment terms all threaten the future of the owner-operator fishery. Our federal government should be looking for ways to help these working people rather than hinder their prosperity.”

“Last year, our federal government failed those who rely on the fishery, but they have the opportunity now to make small changes that will have a big impact for seasonal workers – not just in our province but Canada wide,” concludes Pretty.