Proposed changes to EI rules could affect equipment operators and truck drivers in the forest-harvesting sector. The federal government announced major changes to the EI structure. In most cases, people on EI would be required to accept a job within an hour’s drive of their home, if it paid within 70 per cent of their previous job. Under the proposed changes, EI recipients will be divided into the following categories:
• Long-tenured workers: Those who have paid into the system for seven of the past 10 years and collected EI for less than 35 weeks in the past five years.
• Frequent claimants: Anyone who has made three or more claims and collected benefits for more than 60 weeks in the past five years.
• Occasional claimants: All other EI recipients, including young and new workers with up to six years of steady employment who have never collected EI.
Long-tenured workers and occasional claimants can begin their time on EI by holding out for employment paying 90 per cent of their previous salary. After 18 weeks, long-tenured workers must accept work at 80 per cent their previous salary. Occasional claimants must do so after 12 weeks of unemployment. After 18 weeks they must accept work paying 70 per cent of their previous salary.
Frequent claimants must take work at 80 per cent of their previous salary for the first six weeks of unemployment. After that, they must accept any offer of at least 70 per cent. An EI recipient who turns down a job that is within the acceptable pay scale will have to prove why it isn’t a suitable offer.
Federal Minister Diane Finley used the example of a roofer who typically goes on EI when work slows down in the winter, then returns to work in the spring. Under the new system, that roofer would be required to search for work in the off-season in the residential construction industry, where his skills would be applicable. The same goes for a laid-off heavy equipment operator working in the oil sands, who would be pressured to move into the construction sector.
It’s safe to assume that same scenario would transfer to forestry, and 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. As if we didn’t already have enough challenges keeping operators and truckers in our industry.