August 14, 2023
ST. JOHN’S, NL – FFAW-Unifor is launching an immediate call to action for federal government to maintain the divisor of 14 (number of best weeks) for the region outside of St. John’s for the remainder of the 2023 season.
Upwards of 20,000 seasonal fishery workers are affected by a sudden change in qualification criteria for Employment Insurance. Following the August 6th adjustment to the regional unemployment rate outside of St. John’s to 12.9%, claimants now require a minimum of 455 hours to qualify for benefits, whereas prior to August 6th the minimum was 420 hours. The change also increases the fishing earnings required for those outside St. John’s. The change means many will now be short of benefits for up to 6 weeks prior to the next work season will begin.
“This unexpected change occurred just as the fishing season is clueing up for thousands of individuals during an already difficult year,” says FFAW-Unifor President Greg Pretty. “The circumstances with the crab fishery this year have caused a great deal of hardship for our members, and this is adding insult to injury. Many will now be short of income for nearly two months before our next fishing season begins and that’s simply unacceptable for such a critical industry in our province,” Pretty explains.
This is the first time that the unemployment rate for the region has dropped from 14 since the pandemic, and the large number of migrant workers and increase in employment connected to summer tourism and hospitality is attributed to the change.
“The difference of 35 hours has a significant impact on seasonal fishery workers who are now approaching the end of their work season and are at risk of coming up short for their claim. To add to this, with the divisor changed to 15, claimants will only be able to draw on 24 weeks of benefits, instead of the 30 weeks they would receive coverage for prior to the adjustment,” Pretty explains.
The Union is asking for members to contact their Member of Parliament and convey just how distressing this change is, and especially at this point in the year. The regional rate of unemployment is adjusted monthly; however, it is not certain if the current unemployment rate of 12.9% for the region outside of St. John’s will rise or fall even further. Fishery workers who rely on filing for EI after their season ends have been working according to EI guidelines in place at the beginning of the season.
“Given the dramatic decline in income this year, a temporary emergency change to maintain the divisor of 14 for seasonal labour and fishing claims is now critical to ensure members will be protected,” Pretty says.
To try and safeguard negative impacts from serious income shortages this year, FFAW-Unifor presented federal government with an Economic Support Proposal in June that identified several key areas of support to balance the industry in a volatile season. Both levels of government were unreceptive to the measures that were proposed, citing broad administrative limitations, and the inability to extend exclusive relief to a specific group of workers impacted by a specific resource.
“Without immediate action from federal government, this change will cause even more unnecessary harm during an already immensely challenging year. Our federal representatives must act to ensure these workers will be able to make ends meet during the seasonal gap in employment,” concludes Pretty.
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