Fisheries workers denounce changes to EI

THE CHANGES in the EI system that the Harper government has announced are being denounced by workers and their organizations across the country. This includes fishery workers and the organizations of fishery and other seasonal workers on both coasts. These workers have taken a stand against the Harper government’s EI changes because they are both an attack on fishery and other seasonal workers and an attack on the regions where they live.

Irvin Figg, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAW) has denounced the changes to EI as an attack on workers and the coastal communities of BC. UFAW is organizing a campaign to rally people in the coastal cities and communities against the federal government’s EI plan. Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) denounced as “a real backwards step” the three tiers of eligibility the new EI regulations impose. “It’s almost as though seasonal workers are kind of third-class citizens with respect to the EI program,” McCurdy said.

Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL), said the proposed changes, along with other changes to social programs like Old Age Security, are attempts of the Harper government to drive down Canadian workers’ standard of living. Payne said, “It’d be really nice if the Harper government actually attacked unemployment instead of unemployed workers, because that’s what we got out of this. There’s a blame game going on. They’re blaming seasonal workers because they work in seasonal industries. They’re blaming the unemployed because they’ve been put out of work, and they’re saying, ‘By the way, you need to be prepared to take a job that pays you on average 30 per cent less.’ And so the end result of all of this, in my opinion, is we’re going to see a downward pressure on wages.”

Atlantic seasonal workers are also slandered as receiving benefits way out of proportion with other regions. In fact, the EI benefits for all workers (seasonal and non-seasonal) in the Atlantic provinces amount to $2.8 billion a year, which is less than 10 per cent of the more than $30 billion total national cost of the EI program. Besides supporting the livelihoods of an average of 300,000 workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own, this amount also represents a significant federal transfer that supports the entire Atlantic regional economy.

Maritime politicians speak out against Harper’s attack on EI

Because of the importance of this federal transfer of funds to the region, the EI changes have also been denounced by politicians of all political stripes in the Atlantic Provinces, where workers in fisheries and other seasonal sectors make up a large proportion of the work force. Provincial politicians are denouncing the Harper government for unilaterally abandoning federal support for the goods producing industries in the region.

Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Premier Kathy Dunderdale made several national and local media appearances immediately after the announcement of the changes by federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC) Diane Finley. Dunderdale denounced new regulations on EI claims by seasonal workers as unfairly targeting the people of NL, which is the province with the highest number of workers employed in seasonal fishery work and other seasonal employment.

“There seems to be a real disconnect between what the federal government is trying to achieve and the reality of peoples’ lives in rural parts of the country — particularly here in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Dunderdale said.

With a half-million people spread out over a vast, coastal area, she says it just isn’t feasible for people to pick up and move to another community to chase work. When the industry closes down because the season has closed then there isn’t anywhere to travel to for work.

Dunderdale also denounced the federal government for imposing changes that will have a profound effect on NL without any consultation with the NL government. She said that none of the provincial premiers had been consulted in advance of the announced changes despite the fact that fishery and seasonal workers have been on the table of federal-provincial discussions for many years. When questioned by reporters about Dunderdale’s accusation, HRSDC Minister Diane Finley admitted that there had been no consultation with provincial premiers.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz have also spoken out against the changes to EI and the negative effects they will have on the large numbers of seasonal workers in their provinces and on their overall provincial economies.

Ghiz said the federal government is not taking regional differences into account and “needs to realize that not every province and every jurisdiction is the same. I am asking that they realize that in January in Prince Edward Island we are not growing potatoes and we’re not catching lobsters, which are two of our largest industries.”

For his part, Dexter said, “These are significant and troubling announcements by a federal government which doesn’t seem to really understand what it will mean for those rural communities.” He further said that the federal government has a “misunderstanding of rural Canada, which I find astounding.”

Universal social programs like EI and Old Age Security need to be enhanced to help ensure the livelihoods of all at a Canadian standard. In this way the interests of individuals and collectives in society can be better harmonized and a path opened for a more humane and democratic society. The potential of universal social programs for evening out regional disparities also needs to be developed not eliminated as the Harper government is trying to do. The money from social programs going into rural areas where a seasonal economy dominates is crucial to support those regional economies and provide opportunities for other developments. The anti-worker, nation-wrecking offensive of the Harperites is dangerous and has to be stopped.

Source: TML Daily, June 5, 2012, No. 84

Further reading

Harper Government’s Anti-Worker, Nation-Wrecking Social Policy:

The Workers’ Opposition Must Occupy the Space for Change

Courtenay Rally Against Harper Dictatorship’s 
Omnibus Budget Bill

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Filed under Fisheries & fishermen, Nova Scotia Government, Working Class

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