MONCTON – A Maritime economist says seasonal workers on employment insurance should acquire new skills and find extra work in the off-season, instead of relying on federal handouts. Brian Lee Crowley, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says the EI benefits for seasonal workers should be phased out over the next five to 10 years.

Crowley says workers avoid getting jobs in the off-season because they become dependent on the government handout. He suggests the economy would be better served if seasonal workers were trained to do other jobs in the off-season. He says that kind of system works in other places, so it should work in the Maritimes provinces, too.

“Florida has a huge tourism industry but it only lasts a few months of the year,” Crowley says. “Maine has a fishery that is just as seasonal as Atlantic Canada’s and in none of those places do people get unemployment insurance.”

Crowley says people shouldn’t be getting paid thousands of dollars to stay at home when some industries are experiencing labour shortages.

He says the problem isn’t with the workers, but with the system. “I am not criticizing people for playing by the rules. I’m saying that the rules suck, and the rules have caused us to change our behaviour so we can take advantage of these generous benefits.”

Crowley says the first step in reform is to stop attracting young seasonal workers into the EI system. He says young people should instead be encouraged to string two or three seasonal jobs together so they can work for the full year.