© Star photo by Geraldine Brophy
Marsha Crocker of Trout River discusses the impact recent changes to the federal Employment Insurance program will have on her and her family.
CORNER BROOK The federal government has admitted it made a mistake in the way Employment Insurance claims from people involved in the fishery were processed this year.
As reported in The Western Star earlier this month, some people who have gained employment income in addition to fishing income were told they could not claim the higher earnings from fishing if they worked enough hours at other work to be eligible for a regular EI claim.
For Marsha Crocker of Trout River, whose story was told in The Western Star’s article, it meant an unexpected drop in her EI benefits from around $800 to a little more than $300 every two weeks.
On Wednesday, the Department of Employment and Social Development acknowledged to The Western Star that there was “a technical mistake” made by the department and that this would be rectified in the budget implementation bill that was tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday.
Nick Koolsbergen, the department’s director of communications, said Crocker had “a very legitimate point” that the changes to the EI program were negatively affecting her.
The fix under the budget implementation bill, said Koolsbergen, will be retroactive so that Crocker and others who claim fishing income as part of their income for benefit calculation will still be able to do so this year.
“This (drastic reduction in benefits) was never the intention of the policy and we need to make sure people who were impacted by it are (done) right,” said Koolsbergen.
At least two politicians from Newfoundland and Labrador welcomed news that the changes were coming prior to the federal government’s confirmation.
Gerry Byrne, the Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, said he and his party have been on the federal government’s case to rescind the change ever since hey got wind of it.
“Today, some fishermen are reporting being told by Service Canada officials that the government has reversed itself of the whole affair, while others remain in the dark,” said Byrne in a prepared statement earlier Wednesday. “It’s time for clarity. Were we successful in getting the government to reverse itself on this issue for everybody’s benefit or not, yes or no?”
Jim Bennett, the Liberal legislature member for St. Barbe, said the reversal should alleviate a lot of stress created by the uncertain finances of those who work in the fishery.
“This is good news for our fisher people and communities,” said Bennett in a press release. “It is also good news for employers seeking fisher people during the off season to do labour work.”