Mr. Speaker, on June 7, I rose in the House to ask a question about the spring gap problem that affects seasonal workers.
The Liberal government promised to restore the extra five weeks pilot project. Even though promises were made, many seasonal workers will again have no income next spring. It is unacceptable that the government cannot find a real solution to help families who are in a precarious position because of its failure to act. The government does not seem to realize that the situation is urgent.
More than 16,000 seasonal workers are grappling with the spring gap, and almost 40% of them are Quebeckers. The majority of these seasonal workers will run out of employment insurance benefits up to four months before they are to return to work. These workers in the agriculture, forestry, tourism, and fishery industry will have difficulty finding another job to make up for the lack of income.
During the election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to reform the employment insurance regime and solve the spring gap problem. Some organizations, such as the Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses, are still waiting for the government to keep its promise. The CNC is asking the government to establish a program that would take into consideration the situation of seasonal workers. However, after two years, nothing has been done. What is the government waiting for to take action?
Every year, these workers and their families experience terrible hardships. There are so many examples. Last June, workers in the shrimp industry in the Gaspé region were deprived of at least six weeks of work. As a result, the number of weeks of EI benefits they are entitled to after their contract will go down. Shrimp industry workers could therefore be left without any income next spring before being rehired.
This is not only a problem in the Gaspé. According to the group Action Chômage Haute-Côte-Nord, the spring gap can result in anywhere between five and 15 weeks of extreme poverty for certain families. We are talking about people who earn less than $20,000 a year and are going into debt. Imagine living for three or four months without any income. It is impossible. This is also the case in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, where we have a lot of seasonal workers in the agrifood industry.
Many seasonal workers in New Brunswick will no longer have access to employment insurance next spring. The explanation given illustrates how serious the situation is: the unemployment rate in their region has dropped over the past year, so that is to blame. It dropped from 15% to 11%, and this changes the employment insurance formula used. An individual who accumulated 420 hours of work last year could receive 30 weeks of EI benefits. Now, 490 hours of work are needed to be eligible for 23 weeks of EI benefits. It makes no sense.
When the unemployment rate is low, seasonal workers have to accumulate more hours of work but receive fewer weeks of benefits. Seasonal workers in New Brunswick will now have to work two more weeks, yet they will end up with seven weeks less of employment insurance benefits.
However, the government insists that everything is fine and that the solution is to wait for the unemployment rate to rise. What a joke. This is totally unacceptable. Seasonal workers are essential to the Canadian economy. The government ought to fulfill the promises it made them, starting with reinstating the extra five weeks program. Employment insurance is important for everyone, especially seasonal workers.
When will the government finally take the necessary steps to help seasonal workers and prevent the recurring spring gap problem?