06/04/2012 03:29 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT

EI changes could help seasonal workers, says farmer

A New Brunswick apple grower thinks there may be some merit in the new employment insurance rules for seasonal workers.

The proposed federal reforms will require frequent users of EI to take any job they are qualified to do up to an hour away from home and at 70 per cent of their previous pay.

But Gene Hoyt, of Prince William, believes the controversial changes may help open up jobs for unemployed seasonal workers.

"If we set things up right, I think that they'll take the jobs,” he said.

“We've got as good workers in New Brunswick as anywhere else in the world. And I think New Brunswickers will step up to the plate and take the advantage and make the moves."

Some people have criticized the reforms, arguing they could hurt New Brunswick’s large seasonal workforce in industries such as farming, fishing and forestry. Some employers have also suggested that forcing someone to take a job might not benefit the employer.

The Alward government has set up a committee to look at how the changes will affect workers in the province. The committee, made up of civil servants, is expected to report to government by mid-June.

The new regulations are expected to be in place by early 2013.

Hired laid-off workers

Hoyt said he used to bring in workers from Mexico to pick apples on his farm.

But then he found unemployed people — laid-off crab plant workers from Caraquet — who were willing to travel about four hours to help with the fall harvest.

"We were getting guys that fished in the summertime and were unemployed in the fall and were happy to come over and get a few weeks work,” he said.

It worked well for about four years, said Hoyt.

"We got men that were anxious and willing to work. They were equally as good as the Mexicans."

Hoyt has since scaled back his operation and has found enough workers locally.

Laid-off fish plant and forestry workers have also been helping to harvest another crop in the St. John River Valley.

A spokesperson for the Potato Hotline says it found jobs for about 350 people from the Acadian Peninsula area last season.

More than 108,000 people, or about a quarter of the province’s entire workforce, collected some EI in 2010 — $826 million worth in total.

That’s 70 per cent more than the national average, largely because of seasonal work.