CORNER BROOK — Jason Spingle believes people affected by recent changes to the Employment Insurance system should have been given more of a heads-up from the federal government.
Spingle is a staff representative for the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union that represents people working in the fishing industry.
Several of those people will see a drastic reduction in their EI benefits this winter if they have managed to find 420 hours of work to supplement the income they earned from fishing, even if they worked the same pattern in recent years.
The Western Star reported on an example of such a situation in Wednesday’s edition. Marsha Crocker fished with her husband until a summer job she enjoyed doing became available in June.
When she was laid off from that seasonal job, she filed her EI claim. Although she had done this for the last five or six years, changes to the EI system meant that her claim would be totally based on the hours she worked after she left fishery.
The result is she will receive between $400 and $500 less than what she had received in recent years and expected to receive in EI benefits this winter.
The FFAW knew about the changes, which the federal government calls the Variable Best Weeks program, but the union did not know exactly what the impact would be until its members began filing for EI.
Spingle said the union began trying to get the message out three weeks ago, since hearing of the first cases of people involved in the fishery finding out their benefits would be considerably lower. Meetings were held at some locations on the Northern Peninsula, but not in Trout River.
“We saw the area that would be most impacted would be the Northern Peninsula,” said Spingle. “We did some meetings where we thought the impact would be most prevalent. Unfortunately, we probably missed some people inadvertently.”
He said, at any rate, EI claimants should have heard more about it from Service Canada first.
“In my view, anyone who had (a history of) fishing and regular labour income should have been given some notification after the Variable Best Weeks program came into effect that there were changes and there will most likely be an impact on you,” said Spingle.
He said the union has communicated the concerns of its members to Service Canada.
The Western Star requested an interview with a representative from Service Canada on the issue. Instead, an emailed reply was sent explaining the changes.
“The Variable Best Weeks is a national approach to calculating EI benefits that will ensure that people living in regions with similar labour market conditions are treated similarly,” read the email. “As a result, some claimants may experience a reduction in their EI benefit rate when compared to previous years despite similar work patterns, while others may experience an increase.”
The new approach does still allow for regular claimants to include fishing income.
“However, the fishing earnings used towards the benefit rate calculation are restricted to those earned during their ‘best weeks’ of regular employment,” read the correspondence. “There are no changes to how EI fishing benefits are calculated. This change applies to individuals who have a combination of regular and fishing earnings and will ensure that EI claimants will not receive more from EI than income from their regular job.”