03/04/2013 07:24 EST | Updated 05/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Tourism Operators Worry About EI Reforms


Some New Brunswick tourism operators are concerned about the impact federal changes to the Employment Insurance system will have on seasonal workers.

Right now Kathy Weir’s ranch in Hopewell Hill resembles a ghost town. But starting in the spring, the ranch will have a stampede of about 50,000 customers for the tourism season.

Each year, Weir hires about 30 people to work on the food service side of the ranch and counsellors with early childhood development skills to work on the adventure programs.

The owner of the Moncton-area business, however, said she may not be able to find enough workers for the upcoming season.

"In the summer time with the horseback riding and the adventure camps that we do, a lot of group functions, wagon rides that kind of thing would be considered seasonal," Weir said.

She said some people are not sure if they are coming back to work at the ranch this spring because they fear they may not be able to draw EI at the end of the season.

"They are concerned because they have to live and I understand that," she said.

Weir said she invests time and training into her staff with the hope that they will come back and work the following year.

She said the EI changes announced by the federal government are going to hurt small seasonal tourism operators.

"It affects my business by increasing my training costs because I have to train more employees than I hoped to," she said.

Jeremy Wilburn, the head chef at Broadleaf, works from May to October and then draws Employment Insurance during the winter months.

He said he plans to come back to work in the spring but he's worried he won't be able to find kitchen staff to work with him.

"Without properly trained staff we are going to be a sinking ship," he said.

Weir said the tourism industry in New Brunswick needs readily available seasonal workers in order to survive.

Harper, Finley backed EI changes

The controversial EI reforms were endorsed again by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

In a speech last week, Finley praised the EI changes that force frequent collectors of EI to travel as far as 100 kilometres for a job, and accept as much as 30 per cent less pay than their previous employment.

The federal government has also faced criticism over the home visits from bureaucrats to people on EI.

In an interview on CBC Radio's Maritime Noon last week, Finley defended the controversial home visits that EI investigators are conducting in the cases of 1,200 randomly selected EI recipients.

"Unfortunately some people may go on vacation, and we want to make sure that that's not happening," she said in the interview.

After the reforms were announced last year, Premier David Alward asked for a team of senior provincial officials to study the potential impact of the changes.

In that report, the cultural and tourism sector expressed "grave concern for the potential loss of tourism seasonal staff."

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