EI changes unfair to N.L., Dunderdale says
Published Sunday, May 27, 2012 10:52PM EDT
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale says the federal government's plan to implement new changes to the employment insurance program will unfairly affect the people in her province who are largely employed in seasonal work.
The government recently announced plans to overhaul the EI program. Under the new system, there will be more pressure on so-called "frequent users" to take any available work -- including work that pays up to 30 per cent less than previous employment -- or risk being cut off.
Newfoundland and Labrador, where a large segment of the population is employed in the seasonal fishing industry, has the highest number of repeat EI users in the country.
Dunderdale appeared on CTV's Question Period Sunday, where she told host Craig Oliver the changes unfairly target the people of her province.
While government subsidies and programs are in place to support agriculture and food production, the fishing industry has largely been ignored, she said.
"We don't have any such program for the fishery and that industry has been stop-gapped in some way by the EI program," she said. "So, changes may be in order, but you have to do that in concert with something else, and I'm worried that that hasn't been done in this case."
Dunderdale also said she worries the new changes unfairly paint the people in her province as lazy or unwilling to work -- something that is simply not the case, she said.
"We all understand that when work is available to people and it's reasonable and a decent wage that people ought to take that work rather than relying on social programs," said Dunderdale. "The federal government is not going to get an argument from anywhere in the country on that principle."
Dunderdale also said that what may seem like a clear-cut policy is not always the case.
"What appears to be relatively straightforward is not so when you deal with the complexity and the reality of peoples' lives in communities, especially rural communities," she said.
Dunderdale points to industry pressures and government policy in the 1970s and ‘80s that encouraged young people to leave school to work in the year-long fishing industry, as part of the reason why the residents of her province require EI.
"So we have a large part of our population now who are in their fifties who don't have high-school diplomas," she said. "While very skilled, they don't have certification, and are in an industry that is in a transition that has had severe economic impacts on them."
Dunderdale said she has requested to meet with the prime minister to discuss the issue.