10/23/2012 11:13 EDT | Updated 12/23/2012 05:12 EST

Island minister urges Ottawa to back down on EI changes

Changes to the employment insurance system will have a negative affect on P.E.I. seasonal economy and force workers to find jobs elsewhere, says provincial Innovation Minister Allen Roach.

Roach briefed the Legislature's Rural Development Committee Tuesday before lobbying the federal government to concede.

In early August, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced changes to the "working while on claim pilot program" for EI recipients who find part-time work while still collecting benefits.

It replaced the previous system that clawed back claims once the part-time wages exceeded 40 per cent of benefits, or $75 a week, whichever was greater.

The new pilot program reduced the clawback on new earnings to 50 per cent, but kicked in with the first dollar earned, not at 40 per cent.

Roach said under the changes seasonal workers' EI benefits will run out after 23 weeks, five weeks sooner then before. He said there will also be tighter rules, especially when it comes to job searches and travelling to available work.

The minister said this would force EI recipients to look for jobs off the Island.

"It's the lack of recognition of what the seasonal employees really are on Prince Edward Island. If you're a skilled employee working in another job, there's not going to be a problem. No one is going to question that if you're a trained IT worker or anything like that. But if you're trained and have skills in a seasonal, you're going to be disadvantaged," he said.

Seasonal worker Roger Byers said under the new changes, he'll lose about $400 a month.

"That's bills not getting paid, that's food not being bought," he said.

Opposition MLA Stephen Myers said the onus of creating jobs is on Roach.

"We've all said right from the onset that this was not going to be favorable to Prince Edward Island, but he completely brushes off the fact that he has responsibility as minister of development to create an economy here on P.E.I.. That's what it comes down to, it's his job," said Myers.

Meanwhile, several unions, community groups and politicians gathered in Charlottetown Tuesday to fight changes to employment insurance.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees said they plan to host a rally Saturday in front of National Revenue Minister Gail Shea's office in Summerside.

"To me 'standup for us' is my message to Gail Shea and if it means losing your cabinet post, well, it means losing your cabinet post," said Lori MacKay, CUPE president.

The full impact of the changes won't be known until the spring, after a winter under the new rules.