December 12, 2012

Dear Minister:

On December 7, you changed the regulations regarding Temporary Foreign Workers and the Employment Insurance Regulations 55 (4) to now require a valid Social Insurance Number and work permit to be eligible for Special Benefits under the EI Act.

We are seeking your reconsideration specifically regarding the impact on the agriculture sector and the impact on seasonal foreign workers. Since 1966, the Canadian Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program has supplied seasonal foreign workers to an entire sector critical to the Canadian economy. These workers, primarily married men from the Caribbean and Mexico, leave their families every year for months to harvest our food.

These workers and their employers continue to contribute into the Employment Insurance Program; although, by government regulation the workers are unable to collect the regular benefit when laid off due to residency requirements. Up to $25 million dollars every year is funneled into the government revenue stream thanks to the premiums paid by the seasonal foreign agriculture workers themselves.

Finally, in 2003 the first claims for parental benefits were secured by our AWA support centers for the seasonal agriculture workers; achieving some balance to the EI program. The other EI special benefit provisions such as maternity, compassion and sick benefits have been accessible but rarely used by these workers.

We are asking you to specifically exempt the agriculture sector from these announced changes due to the seasonal nature of the work, and the length of service of these incredible individuals who deserve some benefit from the EI program.

If you are unwilling to make an industry exception, I would then ask you consider a change in activation date in fairness to the program itself. The date for activating the new regulation was December 9, 2012. This date did not provide us with much notice to prepare our staff at the Agriculture Workers Alliance offices, or the agriculture workers we represent (two days over the past weekend).

We are urging your immediate reconsideration on this activation date. We ask that you take into account that the final working day for all under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program is December 15. All seasonal agricultural workers must leave the country on this date, so we are asking specifically that you change the date to December 31, 2012 to provide appropriate time for filing.

Due to the fact that many agriculture workers have been asked by their employers (agriculture operators) to finish the season and have remained to the end, they are now being punished by this random date of December 9. Should you decide to change this date to up to and including December 31, you would be providing benefits for an additional 301 potential claimants, who for no reason other than being a good employee, have been denied parental benefits (60 individuals in your Haldimand-Norfolk riding alone will be adversely affected).

I urge you during this holiday season to reconsider the effective date. Minister Finley, bring holiday wishes to some 301 temporary foreign workers and their families this season. Be fair with all the workers under the same program.

Yours sincerely,

Wayne Hanley, President

UFCW Canada

Contact Information:

UFCW Canada
Naveen Mehta
General Counsel and Director, Human Rights
(416) 675-1104 x 2246