Oil price slide leads to spike in unemployment in B.C.'s Peace Region

The collapse in the price of oil has hit employees hard, says employment counsellor 

More people in the Peace Region are collecting employment insurance (EI) benefits than this time last year, according to new data from Statistics Canada. 

Around 460 people in Fort St. John collected some form of income benefit in June, an increase of around 40 per cent over June 2014, when 270 people were on EI. In Dawson Creek, 210 people were on the rolls this June, a year-over-year increase of around 19 per cent. 

The numbers are seasonally adjusted, meaning they have been modified by Statistics Canada to eliminate the effects of people who regularly go on EI between seasonal employment.

The number of people on EI in Fort St. John reached a 24-month high in June, while Dawson Creek peaked at 220 in April.

Jeanette Karasiuk, who works at Employment Connections in Fort St. John, said the collapse in the price of oil has hit local employees hard.

“I think there have definitely been more layoffs, we’re helping more people fill out EI applications, applying for training dollars, training support,” she said. 

She said the agency was helping around 120 clients a day, which isn’t an unusual amount for this time of year.

“In the fall we tend to have a busier time,” she said. “We have a lot of people coming into Fort St. John in the fall for oil and gas work.”

But most of the 190 jobs on the agency’s board are in retail, hospitality and trades, she said.

In July, the rate of unemployment in the region rose for a fifth-straight month to 6.4 per cent. Around 39,600 people were employed in the region at the time. In 2014, northeast B.C.’s unemployment rate averaged 4.6 per cent—the lowest in the province. 

The forestry, fishing, mining and oil and gas sectors, which are grouped together by Statistics Canada, saw a 1.1 per cent increase in the number of people employed. The survey did not measure job losses in oil and gas.

The Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors in July reported that drilling in the province was down around 30 per cent year over year.

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