AMHERST – It’s a cold day. Bare hands are painful quickly. But Maureen Deegan is willing to stop long enough on Church Street to offer an opinion about the employment insurance changes the federal government has instituted.
“Bad,” said the woman. “People that are on seasonal work are really going to be hit hard.”
She’s not the only one who’s concerned. Don Furlong, owner of Tantramar Chevrolet, doesn’t employ seasonal workers. But seasonal work means money to the community.
“I do think it will harm our local economy,” said the businessman.
Furlong is predicting an exodus of working age residents. He thinks seasonal employers will find themselves short when they need workers. And he thinks the threat the changes pose to the local economy are a bigger issue than has been made of them so far.
Scott Armstrong, MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Harbour, said the government wants to connect people to jobs in their area.
“We want people to be better off,” Armstrong said.
He clarified a number of points about the government’s EI changes. For one thing, he claims one of the ‘changes’ is really just a decision to bring accountability and integrity to rules that already existed: seasonal workers were always expected to look for other work in the off-season. Now the government will direct them to available jobs with twice daily updates of available positions.
Armstrong stressed the word reasonable – that out of work Nova Scotians would not be expected to take work an unreasonable distance away, for example. And he said no person would be expected to take a job that left them in worse financial shape than they were on EI.
Finances wouldn’t be the only consideration, said Armstrong. The government will take into account individual circumstances, he claimed, and appeals of decisions will be available. He said an unemployed fast food worker in Amherst will not be required to apply for a fast food job in Truro or risk being cut off of EI.
Armstrong expressed his belief working is better than not, and EI can become a trap for some people – a downward spiral that can impact confidence and foster hopelessness.
“You feel productive, you feel good about yourself (when you work),” he said.
The MP also said the new measures will require Nova Scotia companies to make a more concerted effort to employ locals before they can look abroad for temporary foreign labour.
Furlong said immigrant workers may be necessary for seasonal work if EI changes cause local temporary workers to look elsewhere for employment. He said denying EI in the off-season may leave some people with no choice but moving away.