Seasonal workers will have an easier time collecting employment insurance benefits in the wake of new measures announced by the federal government.
Joe Volpe, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, said the government will implement the following new measures:
•A pilot project offering seasonal workers the possibility of receiving up to five more weeks of EI benefits to encourage them to find more work, and therefore reducing the income gap when EI runs out before the seasonal work begins again.
•The extension of the transitional EI boundary measures in the Madawaska-Charlotte (New Brunswick) and Lower St. Lawrence/North Shore (Quebec) regions for another year. About 15,000 EI claimants will benefit from the extension through increased access to benefits and longer benefit duration.
•Provinces that participated in the Older Workers Pilot Projects Initiative will be offered additional funding in 2004-2005. The projects are designed to help older workers aged between 55 and 65 to remain employed or reintegrate into the labour force.
Volpe said the new measures will cost between $230 and $270 million over the next two years and will benefit between 115,000 to 135,000 seasonal workers annually.
“Seasonal industries are key to a number of regions across the country, particularly in rural and remote regions,” said Volpe.
He also said that if the task force on seasonal work recommends amendments to the Employment Insurance Act to address particular circumstances related to seasonal work patterns, he is prepared to give these proposed amendments serious consideration.
“EI is part of the solution,” he said. “Longer-term solutions require co-ordinated action by governments, industry and communities. I am challenging our partners — the provinces, territories, communities and industry — to build upon Government of Canada initiatives by moving forward with their own strategies and investments.”
Pilot to test effectiveness of increased weeks of EI benefits linked to increased work
The pilot will test whether increased weeks of EI benefits that are linked to increased work will help to address the annual income gap faced by workers in regions with unemployment rates of 10 per cent or more. As a result, up to five additional weeks of EI benefits will be available to workers who work longer.
It will also test whether increased incentives will help to respond to regional industry labour shortages in the off-season.
This new measure will benefit 100,000 to 120,000 claimants who will receive up to $1,000 more per claim.
Extension of the transitional boundary measures
Under the employment insurance program, the definition of economic regions determines eligibility for EI benefits. The creation of new economic regions in 2000 reflected changes in the labour market and ensured that people living in areas with high unemployment rates receive the assistance they need from the EI program.
Shortly after these changes came into effect, it was noted that in two regions of the country — Madawaska-Charlotte, New Brunswick, and Lower St. Lawrence/North Shore, Quebec — some workers would need more time to adapt to the increase in the number of hours needed to qualify for EI benefits. The situation resulted in the Government of Canada introducing transitional measures over a four-year period, whereby the unemployment rates were averaged and the higher of the average or the actual rate was used. This meant that claimants in the two regions required fewer hours to qualify for EI and received benefits for a longer period than they would have without the transitional measures.
The transitional period is being extended for another year, which will provide people still having difficulty adapting to the 2000 boundary changes more time to adjust until the new revision of the EI economic boundaries scheduled for 2005 takes effect in 2005-2006.
Funding for the Older Workers Pilot Projects Initiative
Provinces that participated in the Older Workers Pilot Projects Initiative, which operated from 1999 to the end of March 2004, will be offered additional funding in 2004-2005 to continue testing active employment measures for older workers. The projects are designed to help older workers aged between 55 and 64 to remain employed or reintegrate into the labour force. The provincial and territorial governments will oversee the sponsors of the projects selected. The Government of Canada and participating provinces and territories will provide funding for the projects.