Potential changes to regulations governing eligibility for employment insurance could lead to decreased wages or depopulation of Revelstoke, according to the Revelstoke Community Poverty Reduction Strategy.
“If passed, the new rules will force EI recipients to apply for and accept any work that is available in the region, regardless of the wage or working conditions provided. For Revelstoke, where vacant jobs are scarce or fiercely competitive depending on the season, these moves could result in depopulation and loss of economic activity as EI payments are removed from the local economy,” the report states.
The Conservative government announced last month details on proposed changes to the EI system. The changes, announced by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, re-define what is considered “suitable employment” and a “reasonable job search.”
They would dictate how long one can receive EI for and what kind of jobs one would need to look for.
For seasonal workers, who are classified as frequent claimants, the changes mean they would have to apply for any job they are qualified for, even if it’s outside their field. Frequent claimants are defined as claimaints that have had three or more claims and received more than 60 weeks of benefits in the past five years.
The new rules would require them to expand their job search outside their normal field of work at the onset of their EI claim and accept wages at 80 per cent of their normal wage. After seven weeks, the would have to apply for any job they are qualified and accept wages at 70 per cent of their previous wage.
In Revelstoke, where employment is seasonal and spikes in the winter, the changes could pose significant challenges.
“The subtext for Revelstoke is that workers who have gainful seasonal employment may be forced to leave town for work or have their benefits withdrawn,” the poverty reduction strategy states.
“Potentially it could either force people to leave the community because they need to find work or we could see an increase in seasonal poverty if they are denied benefits because they don’t want to leave their families and the community to look for work,” said Jill Zacharias, the city’s social development co-ordinator and one of the authors of the report.
It is difficult to pinpoint unemployment numbers for Revelstoke. Statistics Canada, which compiles monthly statistics across Canada, does not publish the numbers for Revelstoke. According to BC Stats, there were 187 EI recipients in Revelstoke in September 2010, representing 4.3 per cent of the population above 15.
The recently released Revelstoke Community Poverty Reduction Strategy (see page 11 for more on that) includes the number of EI filers in Revelstoke from 2000 to 2009. The data shows the number of EI recipients varies with the season, with numbers spiking in the winter. This mirrors the province-wide trend.
For the forest industry, the represents challenges. In its weekly industry update, the Central Interior Logging Association, said the changes could make it even harder to keep workers around.
“Given the general shortage of truck drivers and equipment operators, we could see our workers forced to take lower paying jobs in other sectors during break-up,” the report states. “As if we didn’t already have enough challenges keeping operators and truckers in our industry.”
Representatives from CILA did not return requests for an interview to further discuss the issues.
Patricia Frazier of Sundance Forest Management said the changes could impact the silviculture industry. When she spoke to the Times Review she said she heard of the changes, however she said changes to EI eligibility could make it harder to find seasonal workers in the industry.
“I don’t want anybody to change it because who are you going to get to work for you if you can’t provide year round,” she said. “You have to have a workforce to do the work. Who’s going to fight those fires or who’s going to plant those trees?
“The government has to be thinking of those kind of people. We can’t be left without a workforce.”
RMR not concerned about EI changes
Do the changes mean bad news for Revelstoke Mountain Resort? I asked if they were worried that changes to EI eligibility would affect reduce the number of unemployed ski bums and, consequently, skier visits. Sarah Windsor, the resorts spokesperson, said they were no concerned.
“Our visitor and pass holder demographics are vast, with those falling into an affected category representing a very small portion,” she said. “For those who may have been planning to visit on those terms and consequently, affected by these changes, we definitely encourage them to still come to Revelstoke and take advantage of great seasonal employment opportunities in the region while getting to enjoy the ‘ski bum’ lifestyle in their spare time.”