LNB President Neil Pond has opportunity to present landscape industry concerns to minister responsible for EI reforms





Neil Pond (far left), LNB president with his local Chamber of Commerce and three members of Parliament in the centre (Hon. Rodney Weston, Hon Diane Finley - Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, and Hon. Rob Moore)

On June 29, Neil Pond met with Hon. Diane Finley and a select few people at a local Chamber of Commerce closed door session. He spoke with LNB reporter Seth Marriott shortly after the meeting.

"Present at the meeting were approx. 12 KV Chamber members including myself. Federal MP’s Rob Moore and Rodney Weston were also present along with an entourage of assistants to the Federal Minister.It went well, and it seems the minister is becoming brought up to speed on how organized our industry is, and she seemed genuinely impressed with our training programs like Certification and Red Seal."

"The bottom line that I got from the meeting: You need to keep looking for work while receiving EI or else you will stop receiving benefits. The changes are targeted to address the complacency of EI claimants and I understand that the landscape industry will be looked upon no differently than any other sector in this regard."

"The Minister seemed to be interested in any incentives for extended employment in order to limit seasonal employment and reduce the EI benefit period. I spoke at length on the challenges facing our industry such as:
•    Competitive pressure on our industry by other migrant workers (teachers, firemen, shift workers, other trades).
•    Seasonality reduces employability over 12 months. But as an industry, we are trying to extend our season with additional services such as snow removal. However, this is not enough to offset the downtime gap in employment to full time.
I spoke at length about our desire to do more winter training and the possibility of this getting recognized as skills upgrading which will indirectly extend employment for many of our workers. I used the Red Seal Apprenticeship training as an example of how our people want to be recognized as a legitimate trade and treated as such. However, I understand the cycle of dependency in cyclical repeated use of EI to offset incomes rather than temporarily supplement incomes while seeking employment (The Minister mentioned that this is the mentality that has to change)."

"I then complimented the minister for taking action to eliminate the “clawback” policy as a disincentive to work. I also suggested that they consider the practice of “banking hours” as a strategy to extend employment for our industry (The Minister seemed quite interested in this idea). Minister Rodney Weston commented about this as a good idea at the end of the meeting."

"I suggested that they use an annualized rating system to calculate claims to better reflect the amount of hours that our trade works over an 8 month period (far more than full time people work in 8 months!). I made the argument that our industry works longer and harder than most do during the season and consideration should be given to this when comparing claims and calculating eligibility etc.
In summary, I suggested that we find ways & means to reduce the EI dependency by extending the employment period with innovative employment strategies and off season training programs.
Minister Finley stated that our people will still continue to be eligible to receive EI if there are no temporary jobs to fill the off season but they must continue to try to find winter work. Recognized trades people (journeyman) working in our industry should be more easily recognized and therefore not asked to take another job unrelated to their skill sets. The labourers and lesser skilled workers will be more pressured to take alternate winter jobs if available. All claimants will be expected to seek winter employment."

The LNB office is convinced that now is the time for members to kick in and get their letters of authenticity, their Landscape Industry Certifications, and to start driving some staff through the apprenticeship program. Building critical mass in these things will provide proof that we are indeed an industry of professionals, and that landscape horticulture is a great career choice. This could very well work as a driver to get apprentices into our school.