More than 500 local fish harvesters have been denied Employment Insurance benefits for 2021, prompting Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Taylor Bachrach to call for action from the federal government.
Many North Coast fishermen have received rejection letters for their 2021 Employment Insurance claims, which Bachrach said seems unfair.
In 2020, the federal government made temporary changes to Canada’s EI Fishing Benefits program so fishermen could use their earnings in any of the previous three years to determine eligibility for benefits, instead of only the most recent year. This was to account for the fact that the pandemic and fisheries closures meant many fishermen had no income in 2020.
Bachrach told The Northern View he was pleased at first with the flexibility of the requirements, but “now it’s like the government has moved the goalposts”.
The Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre has assisted more than 80 fishermen to apply for benefits.
Many of those applications have now been rejected, said Paul Lagace, the centre’s poverty law advocate.
The government webpage with the application rules was also taken down shortly before the rejection letters started to arrive.
“Our office is swimming with calls from all over the province. This morning, a fisherman told me he couldn’t afford to keep his lights on. I’m exhausted with EI Reconsiderations, and I’m out of answers,” Lagace said.
Bachrach wrote to federal employment minister Carla Qualtrough after the unemployed action centre first alerted him to the high rejection situation.
He first started hearing of the rejection letters about a month ago from commercial fishers in Bella Bella.
He is now aware of “hundreds” of commercial fishers affected.
“It’s a real frustration,” Bachrach said adding he is disappointed that it’s up to the minister to fix it.
“These fishermen applied in good faith based on a widespread understanding of the modified eligibility rules,” the MP said. “I’m concerned that either the government didn’t adequately communicate the rules to fishermen and their union, or has interpreted them in a way that is plainly unfair.”
“The last couple seasons have been really tough for commercial fishermen in our region, and families are struggling financially,” Bachrach continued.
“I’m hopeful the minister can fix this. These folks applied in good faith based on criteria on the government’s own website and frequent communications with both DFO and the fishermen’s union.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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