The survival of Charlevoix linked to the reform of employment insurance?

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The survival of Charlevoix linked to the reform of employment insurance?

Report by Guylaine Bussière.

Access to employment insurance has deteriorated to such an extent in Charlevoix that, even after an “exceptional” tourist year, many workers in seasonal employment have failed to qualify for benefits. Local actors fear an exodus of skilled labor that would have “catastrophic” consequences for the region.

Accompanied by employers and workers from the region, Bloc Québécois MNA Caroline Desbiens and the director of the Mouvement Action-Chômage de Charlevoix, Julie Brassard, called on Ottawa on Monday to review the eligibility criteria for employment insurance. , considered too rigid.

A majority of seasonal workers would not have been able to reach the threshold of 700 hours to qualify for benefits, which suggests a dark winter marked with the seal of precariousness.

Today, seasonal workers are at risk of living in poverty because the [federal] government has not kept its promise to reform the employment insurance program, Ms. Brassard denounced during of a press conference organized in La Malbaie.

Last year, the Trudeau government had temporarily lowered the minimum threshold of hours worked to be entitled to health insurance benefits. employment, increasing it from 700 to 420 hours. The exceptional measure, which ended on September 24, was intended to take into account the reduction in the number of hours worked attributable to the pandemic.

Once the color season is over, economic activity slows down for a few weeks in the Charlevoix region. (Archives)

Julie Brassard complains, among other things, about the calculation method, based on the unemployment rate in a given region, which is used to determine the number of weeks and the benefit rate to which a worker is entitled.

She said that in Charlevoix, where the unemployment rate is around 5.2%, a worker's best 22 weeks are taken to determine their benefit rate. When the unemployment rate was 10.4%, as it was before the pandemic, the best 17 weeks worked were used as the variable.

The number of weeks is important, since it serves as a divisor in the operation to calculate the benefit rate. The director of the Mouvement Action-Chômage de Charlevoix gave the example of a worker earning $16 an hour who would have qualified for benefits by reaching the threshold of 700 hours required over a period of 15 weeks.

Her benefit rate would be calculated by dividing her gross income of $11,200 by 22 weeks and multiplying the result ($509.09) by 55%. This would give gross weekly benefits of $280. By repeating the same calculation, but using the number 17 as a divisor, we arrive at an amount of $362.35.

Julie Brassard affirms that her organization has received in recent weeks a hundred calls from workers in distress, either because they failed to reach the 700-hour threshold, or because the amount of their benefit was greatly reduced.

For her part, Federal MP Caroline Desbiens argued that the difficulty of accessing employment insurance benefits had a domino effect on the region's entire economy.

Caroline Desbiens recalled that her party, the Bloc Québécois, has been asking for a reform of employment insurance for several years. (Archives)

Workers, she says, will move to an area where they can hold full-time jobs. In doing so, the companies that provided them with seasonal employment risk having to close down due to lack of sufficient manpower. In the end, an entire ecosystem will be weakened.

There are hardware stores, food markets and local agricultural producers who are going to see their turnover drop, because there are a lot of small businesses that are going to have to close, a supported the MP for Beauport–Côte-de-Beaupré–Île d'Orléans–Charlevoix.

It's not just the workers who feel distress, according to the representative of the Bloc Québécois, employers also experience it on a daily basis.

“It's much more important than an unemployment check. It's an entire industry and an entire region that's dying out, and we're not the only ones. »

— Caroline Desbiens, Member of Parliament for Beauport–Côte-de-Beaupré–Île d'Orléans–Charlevoix

The co-owner of Auberge La Grande Maison in Baie-Saint-Paul, Fanny Bouchard, has been in business for 32 years. She said that, for the first time this year, more than half of her employees failed to qualify for employment insurance.

Despite a bumper season this year, more than 80% of my employees won't even qualify. Of course, we are in a post-pandemic context, but it is still more than half, noted Ms. Bouchard.

Fanny Bouchard fears that the difficulty of accessing employment insurance will cause her to lose workers.

Fr Due to the decrease in tourist traffic, his establishment will be closed as of October 23, for approximately six weeks. When it reopens, scheduled for December 12, it fears that some of its employees may have moved on or taken another job.

“If tomorrow morning I lose my maids, I won't find any more.” This is the first time I've been scared. [Until now] all my employees stayed all the time, but that's not the case anymore. »

— Fanny Bouchard, co-owner of Auberge La Grande Maison

One of its employees, Denis Alain Perreault, failed to qualify for employment insurance, even while working at the inn and at Le Massif de Charlevoix. He says he's not asking for the moon, just enough to live on during the months when tourist activity is sluggish.

We don't ask for much. [We are talking] maybe about a period of four to six weeks. The months of November and April, as we know, are dead. If we could at least fill those weeks with some income, even if it's not a full income, [it doesn't matter], we know that we will go back to work, done argue Mr. Perreault.

He says that several colleagues are in the same situation. Some are unable to work the 700 hours required to obtain employment insurance, even while sometimes working up to three different jobs.

With the collaboration of Guylaine Bussi era

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