Union wants EI rules changed

  • Oct. 8, 2007 6:00 p.m.

The union representing fish plant workers is campaigning to change EI qualifying regulations in the northwest, saying it’s absurd for the coast to be considered part of the same economic region as booming northeastern BC. Because the unemployment rate is so low across much of northern BC, due to jobs created in the oil fields and the harvest of pine beetle infested wood, workers here must work a minimum of 595 hours before they qualify for employment insurance benefits. But Christina Nelson, northern organizer for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union in Prince Rupert, said the north coast should have a much lower number because there are so few jobs here, unlike the rest of the region. Ms Nelson said Rupert and the surrounding area have one of the highest unemployment rates in BC. The union is lobbying to have the federal government change the boundaries, so that northwestern BC is considered separately when it comes to qualifying hours. The government redrew boundaries for two areas in New Brunswick and Quebec in a similar situation, she said. The government is reviewing the northern BC boundary right now, and Ms Nelson is urging union members and anyone else affected by this to write to Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg. Fish workers in Prince Rupert and Masset have been affected by the higher threshold, and many have had to go on social assistance instead of EI, Ms Nelson said, because they can no longer work enough hours to qualify. “People are living in poverty, it’s a sad state of affairs,” she said. “It’s degrading as well. People feel, I’m a worker, paying into a fund, that I’m not able to access.” Until about three years ago, workers only had to accumulate 420 hours before qualifying for benefits. That was before the rest of the northern region started booming. Since January 2003, the unemployment rate has been steadily dropping, from over 15 percent to less than 10 percent. Ms Nelson suggests that people writing to Mr. Solberg point out that the northern “economic region” covers two-thirds of BC, that the oil fields are 1,200 km away from here, and that there are no jobs in this area. Mr. Solberg’s address The Honourable Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6.