More than 100 migrant farm workers will receive the EI parental benefits that Canada owed them for years after Ottawa agreed not to challenge earlier decisions rendered by an independent tribunal.
“That migrant workers see this benefit as important to them is proved by the number of times every year we get calls from their homelands to find out the latest (news),” said Jennifer Pothier, executive director of the Niagara North Community Legal Assistances. “Now we can tell them of the victory.”
In a letter received Tuesday by Pothier and the workers’ co-counsel, Jackie Esmonde of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, the Employment Insurance Commission said it had reviewed the 102 cases and decided to agree to their demands.
The review followed an order by the Federal Court of Appeal last year requiring the Social Security Tribunal to rehear the cases.
Some 30,000 migrant workers from the Caribbean and Mexico have been coming to Canada under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program since 1966.
Collectively they contribute an estimated $3.4 million in premiums into the EI system, though they have never been eligible for full EI benefits because they leave Canada at the end of their seasonal employment.
“The original decision to unilaterally deny their applications was arbitrary and unjust as the federal court pointed out. We are grateful that this latest decision rights that wrong,” said Paul Meinema, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
“But we are also dismayed that since this case began, the (Stephen) Harper government stepped in to permanently deny other seasonal workers access to parental benefits and yet workers are still obliged to pay millions in EI premiums.”
Migrant workers had been qualified for special benefits such as parental and compassionate compensations for up to 35 weeks even if they were outside Canada in the off-season. However, Ottawa changed the Employment Insurance Act in 2012 to impose residency requirement.
Pothier said a meeting with the EI Commission is set for Oct. 1 to iron out the details of the payouts. The 102 claims were worth between $3,000 and $8,000 per worker.