FREDERICTON (GNB) – A federally funded program will provide immediate income support and training for New Brunswickers who experience a gap between employment insurance (EI) benefits and their seasonal employment.

The Seasonal Worker Program Pilot Project, administered by the Department of Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour, will offer a seven-week training or work experience program for employees in the fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism industries in EI Economic Region 09. This is the largest EI region in the province and includes all of Restigouche, Gloucester, Northumberland and Kent counties, and portions of York, Sunbury, Queens, Westmorland and Albert counties. Interested individuals can find out if they are eligible for the pilot project by contacting their local employment development office.

“While we are pleased to see lower unemployment numbers in areas of the province, the corresponding reduction in the EI benefit period has been difficult for many families,” said Labour, Employment and Population Growth Minister Gilles LePage. “Your government is aware of the challenges encountered by seasonal work and the difficult situation faced by workers affected by the so-called EI black hole. Based on the parameters set by the federal government, we have done our best to create a short-term solution, while the federal government continues to develop a long-term solution.”

The unemployment rate in the EI region dropped from 15.2 per cent in September 2016 to 11.5 per cent in September 2017, which resulted in a reduction in the EI benefits period by seven weeks, from 30 to 23 weeks.

"The Government of Canada is pleased to fund this pilot project for New Brunswick's seasonal workers," said Acadie-Bathurst MP Serge Cormier. “Our government is committed to help workers in seasonal industries, by working to address the so-called black hole in Employment Insurance benefits, to ensure families make ends meet until the new work season begins.”

Cormier commented for federal Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

The pilot program will be offered in two phases, from March to June 2018 and February to March 2019. To qualify, participants must have had seasonal employment for a minimum of two years in the fisheries, agriculture, forestry or tourism sectors and reside in the EI region. They must be ready, available and able to participate in training and/or work placement, ready to return to their job at the start of the work season, and must meet with an employment counsellor to establish an employment action plan.

Participants can take 30 hours per week of general training and receive EI replacement for the maximum of their last EI claim. Alternatively, participants can take 30 hours per week of training with a specific employer and receive a salary wage reimbursement of 50 per cent of their hourly wage to a maximum of $10 per hour. Workers over 50 may be eligible for wage reimbursement for a maximum of 40 hours per week, plus mandatory employer contributions.

LePage said individuals who wish to participate in the program must visit their local employment office to begin the process.

Funding for the pilot project comes from Employment and Social Development Canada, which has allotted New Brunswick $2.5 million of the $10 million it has reallocated from existing departmental resources to provide immediate income support and training to affected workers across the country. This measure is in addition to the federal government’s Budget 2018 commitment to invest $80 million in 2018-19 and $150 million in 2019-20 through federal-provincial Labour Market Development Agreements.

The federal government’s Budget 2018 also proposed legislative amendments, as required, to assist workers in seasonal industries.