The Stephen Harper government is using its usual tactic: floating vague plans about future changes and waiting to see what they hear back from the public. One of those sketchy ideas coming down the line is changes to Employment Insurance – changes that will have an impact on seasonal workers who use EI to bridge over periods of unemployment.
The actual changes are still undetermined, although one newspaper is reporting it will involve new definitions of suitable employment, as well as the level of effort to find employment.
Legitimate complaints about EI have existed for ages. Many people who probably should qualify don’t, and many who pay in never see their money back (hence “insurance”).
But moves to end the use of EI as a semi-permanent source of income would be welcome.
It’s a controversial issue. In this province, there are seasonal workers who rely on EI to pay their bills in the off-season. Rural areas may have a brisk tourism season and little else in the way of employment in the off-season. And some fishermen count on EI when they can’t catch.
We’re not oblivious to the very real challenges faced by workers and their families. But a cold reality must be faced. It is not the responsibility of government or taxpayers to supplement a citizen’s living expenses for half the year, year after year. Seasonal workers with no prospects for off-season work must make the good months stretch to cover the bad, find new ways to generate income, or accept that the lifestyle they live is unsustainable.
No one’s pretending any of those three options are easy. But reality owes us nothing. History is full of examples of ways of life that flourished and declined. A community that can only provide a living for half the year should not expect other Canadians to provide a living for the other half.
Jobs are out there. Many of them pay terribly. But people work them day after day to try and make a modest living for themselves and their loved ones. Receiving EI month after month, year after year – with no intention of doing otherwise – is an insult to minimum wage workers who fight daily to provide.