Metro file photo Premier Darrell Dexter

Premier Darrell Dexter said federal reforms to employment insurance seem to unduly target seasonal workers in rural Canada.

But because the province wasn’t consulted on the reforms, announced Thursday by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, Dexter said it remains to be seen what effect it will have on already struggling rural areas of the province.

“It is hard to know at this point,” Dexter told reporters Thursday.

“They seem to be saying there’s some widespread abuse that needs to be fixed. The people who they most seem to be targeting are actually those who are in seasonal jobs. That’s not an abuse, that’s part of the rural culture of Canada.”

The reforms create three categories of applicants for employment insurance. The category that most seasonal employees would fall into – those who’ve applied for EI more than three times in five years – would be told to take a job within 70 per cent of their normal salary within six weeks of applying for assistance.

But Dexter said the fact seasonal employees – such as fishers or farmers – apply for assistance isn’t due to financial imprudence on their part. It’s simply the nature of the business.

“This appears to penalize them because they live in rural communities and work in seasonable jobs,” said Dexter. “And I don’t think that’s particularly fair.”

Another provision within the reforms requires businesses to seek out unemployed Canadians rather than employing temporary foreign workers.

“This all comes back to the question about why don’t you consult with people, and maybe find out what the circumstances actually are in the various provinces,” said Dexter.

“The temporary foreign worker program has actually allowed, particularly in agriculture, has allowed those farms to be more productive in terms of harvesting and getting those products in the door.”

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