P.E.I. Liberal MLA Sonny Gallant makes a valid point: It is not Prince Edward Island’s seasonal workers’ fault we don’t grow potatoes or fish lobsters in the wintertime.
Likewise, the need for workers to staff the water slides at Mill River or Shining Waters Fun parks is non-existent at this time of year.
The seasonal nature of Prince Edward Island’s economy, particularly in rural P.E.I., was front and center during Thursday’s town hall meeting in Alberton, hosted by the P.E.I. Coalition for Fair EI.
It seems clear that the changes made to the Employment Insurance System are harmful to low-income seasonal workers and to employers who rely on a seasonal workforce.
Workers are expected to scour the countryside for jobs that basically don’t exist at this time of the year. Many workers who are able to find a few hours of work during the week are finding their EI income is lower than it would have been under the old rules, and the weeks they can claim are being cut back.
Because of all the uncertainty and stress, more workers than ever are considering pulling up stakes and heading to regions where jobs are more plentiful. It was even suggested during the town hall meeting that the hidden agenda behind the EI changes is to provide cheap labour for the oilfields.
So what happens if a large group of seasonal workers move west? Sure, they might earn higher wages, but, unless the whole family moves out, they incur two sets of living expenses. And either way, that’s leaves less money being spent locally on food and fuel, and less people in the seats at the theatre or hockey arena.
The stress those changes are causing is eroding local communities.
And then, what happens when the fisherman launches his boat in April or when the farmer gets ready to till the land? Will their crewmembers be back, or will they still be out West somewhere? Sure, it could mean new opportunities for young workers, but employers need to be able to draw on experience, too.
No, we don’t grow potatoes in January and theme parks don’t operate at this time of year, but those operations need workers in the summertime. Some employers need extra workers only on an occasional basis at this time of year.
The EI changes do not take those realities into consideration and that’s disgraceful.
We would all be better off if we had full-time, year-round work but that’s not realistic. Tearing rural communities apart is not realistic either.