Hundreds of seasonal workers in Tracadie protest against EI changes

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Federal budget offers help to seasonal workers in EI 'black hole'

Federal budget offers help to seasonal workers in EI 'black hole'

More than 200 people stood outside the Service Canada office in Tracadie on Monday to protest what's being called a black hole for seasonal workers trying to survive on employment insurance.

Because of a gradual drop in unemployment between January and August last year in the Restigouche-Albert economic region, adjustments were made to employment insurance benefits.

- Nowhere to turn: Seasonal workers living in 'black hole' of no EI benefits 

The number of weeks that benefits are available has gone down.

But people in Restigouche-Albert say their EI benefits are running out before their jobs in seasonal industries such as blueberries, tourism, and fishing start up again.

Fernand Thibodeau, spokesman for the Action Committee on Employment Insurance for Seasonal Workers, said the protest was done in solidarity with people in Eastern Quebec and the Magdalen Islands, who are also struggling with the changes.

"We mobilized here in Tracadie, Shippagan, Caraquet, Richibucto and Miramichi to send the message to the government, 'Hey listen, this is enough,'"

But when protesters began arriving at the Tracadie Service Canada, the doors were locked.

According to Thibodeau, the point of the protest was to fax letters from various Service Canada offices to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Police on scene

The RCMP arrived and were allowed into the office, as was Thibodeau. He faxed the letter, while hundreds of supporters stayed outside.

"We don't want to do violence to [anybody]," Thibodeau said. "We're just here to try to make them understand that enough is enough with that black hole."

Seasonal workers in the Restigouche-Albert economic region had to work 490 hours to receive 23 weeks of benefits. In fall 2016, a seasonal worker needed 420 hours of work to receive benefits for 30 weeks.

"Something has to be done, because it's been since September that we're working on [this], and we don't have answers," Thibodeau said.

Employees at Kings Landing in Prince William said they are running into a similar problem, with seasonal workers in the Fredericton-Moncton-Saint John economic region claiming the number of weeks they are paid employment insurance decreased from 28 weeks three years ago to 17 weeks over the last year.

The federal government has said it plans to review its employment insurance policy this year.