An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Guy André  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

In committee (House), as of Nov. 18, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Employment Insurance Act to change the way in which the qualifying period is calculated in the case of a stoppage of work attributable to a labour dispute.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • June 9, 2010 Passed That Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
  • Nov. 18, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

moved that Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested to speak once again about a bill that I introduced, Bill C-395, which is at third reading. This bill would amend the Employment Insurance Act so that people who have lost their jobs because of a lengthy labour dispute, be it a lockout or a strike, can qualify for EI.

This bill is at third reading, and it is clear that this bill must move forward because it has made it all the way through the House with the support of the majority. The next step is royal assent. Before that, I want to try yet again to convince the Conservative members that, as we have mentioned many times, this bill would correct a major gap in the act that penalizes workers when a company closes because of a labour dispute.

Bill C-395 would add work stoppages due to labour disputes to the reasons for extending the qualifying period. Our proposal, which would not cost the earth, is that the full length of a labour dispute be incorporated into the qualifying period so that it can be extended by 52 weeks to include the last year of work preceding the dispute. To qualify for employment insurance, workers would have to have been at work during the last year preceding the dispute. There have been cases where workers who worked for 20 or 25 years and paid into employment insurance did not qualify for EI benefits because of a lockout that lasted for more than two years. That is shameful. One such case was in Lebel-sur-Quévillon.

Under the current Employment Insurance Act, if a labour dispute lasts longer than the 52-week qualifying period, workers who are laid off after the dispute do not qualify for benefits, regardless of how many years they paid EI premiums and whether or not they have ever received EI.

A surplus of nearly $60 billion has built up in the employment insurance fund over the years, yet workers who have paid into that fund for years are not being compensated. Often, these workers are not to blame for the situation they find themselves in, yet as a result of a long lockout, they cannot receive EI benefits.

This is intolerable. I mentioned the workers at the Domtar plant in Lebel-sur-Quévillon who learned in December 2008 that they would be losing their jobs as a result of a lockout and would not be receiving any EI benefits. Since the lockout had gone on for more than 104 weeks, and the workers had not worked any hours during that time, they did not qualify for employment insurance.

I will leave it to my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou to talk more about the social and economic impact of this dispute. And I am not talking about how the workers feel about this government, which is building up numerous surpluses, yet left these workers, who had put in many years on the job, with no income when the plant closed.

Suffice it to say that these people did not qualify for employment insurance. It is shameful. We need to make sure that this unfortunate situation never happens again.

I would of course like to thank the opposition parties for supporting this bill and I would also like to wake the Conservatives up, since they once again seem to be opposed to improving the employment insurance program.

Whether we are talking about the abolition of the waiting period, or the 360 hours that we are demanding through various legislative initiatives, or Bill C-395, or the unemployed, or seniors and the guaranteed income supplement, the government ignores us and has no intention of supporting those who are, unfortunately, in need. Instead, it is investing in airplanes. It is investing billions of dollars in the military. It is investing exorbitant amounts in all sorts of tax breaks for oil companies. But when it comes time to help the poor, this government does nothing.

But I hope this government will reconsider and support this bill, as it ought to. It is not fooling anyone. People will remember Conservative government initiatives like investing a billion dollars in the 48-hour G20 and G8 meetings while openly refusing to improve a measure that is meant to help the unemployed.

Bill C-395 is an effective and simple measure that would fix a problem that is rare, it is true, but that is profoundly unfair for men and women. It is important to take action, but it seems as though the government does not understand this and will vote against giving us the opportunity to implement this legislation.

We will say it and shout it out loud in Quebec. We just want to enable people to receive their employment insurance benefits, because they have contributed for many years to this fund, which regularly generates a surplus. I do not understand why the Conservative government is stubbornly rejecting this measure I am proposing.

In the case of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, why, after the lockout, did the workers who contributed to this fund not have the right to a single cent of employment insurance? This was a lockout; the company shut down for three years. I could be wrong, of course, but I believe a strike or lockout is legal in Quebec and Canada. It is part of a labour relations system that is recognized by law in both Quebec and Canada. These existing measures are not illegal.

Much has been said about Lebel-sur-Quévillon, but let us not forget that it might be the same elsewhere in Quebec or Canada. All workers and employers pay premiums to ensure our protection in the event of a plant or company closure. This is about protecting families, incomes and, often, people's homes.

If the members of this House found themselves without an income for a year or two because of a lockout affecting this place—as it happened not so long ago under this Conservative government—and if that went on for two or three years, that would have an enormous economic, social and family impact on them. Workers have responsibilities, and it is not right for a government to act this way. This is a government with some means. This is not a third world country, but one in which we regularly see billions of dollars spent on various things. Implementing this bill would cost a few million dollars, yet the government is wilfully ignoring it and failing to support those in need.

Sadly, this government has not yet grasped that need. It can still reconsider and support Bill C-395. The same is true with respect to improving EI and eliminating the waiting period. These are all measures designed to support people in need, to whom the Conservatives do not seem to be showing any sensitivity right now.

I once again urge the Conservative Party, at the end of this hour of debate, to consider not only business owners and the most fortunate in society, but also those who are not so fortunate.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent question.

During the World March of Women, women made a number of demands and were very active in Quebec. I participated in a number of marches last week in Lavaltrie, Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, Louiseville and Berthierville. A number of women had many demands. They gathered together in Rimouski this week to make their demands known.

Bill C-395 affects women, as do the measures to eliminate the waiting period and increase the eligibility threshold to 360 hours, and other measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois. When the Conservative government took power, it made cuts to Status of Women Canada's programs. It even said that there is equality among men and women. We all remember that. That was said in the House by one of the ministers. But that is not the case, as the hon. member has indicated, especially in the private sector, where there is a serious gap of 70% between the incomes of men and women. That is a huge difference.

Improving the employment insurance system would make it possible to help the women who are affected by employment insurance, as well as the least fortunate in our society, which is consistent with improving the status of women.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate on Bill C-395 regarding labour disputes and employment insurance qualifications for workers involved in these disputes.

The bill's proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance Act would change the way the qualifying period is calculated in the case of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute. The qualifying period is the period in which the required number of hours of insurable employment that a worker must have in order to establish a claim for benefits is calculated.

As we know, the number of insurable hours needed to qualify for EI benefits varies, depending upon the unemployment rate of the EI region in which an individual lives. The duration of the EI benefits is also based upon the unemployment rate and the amount of insurable hours a person has accumulated in the qualifying period.Those are important elements.

The crux of the bill is that the qualifying period in which the required number of insurable hours must be worked is generally the 52-week period immediately before the start of a claim. In some instances, however, the qualifying period can be extended up to 104 weeks for claimants who were not employed in insurable employment and not receiving EI because they were ill or quarantined.

The purpose of the bill is to extend the qualifying period so that it equals the duration of a labour dispute, even if this period exceeds the current maximum of 104 weeks for extensions provided due to illness or quarantine. The bill involves itself directly in respect to the length of a labour dispute. Its intention is to allow employees to be eligible for EI benefits if they are laid off after a lengthy labour dispute comes to an end.

The amendment presented by the committee further clarifies the bill ensuring that the time period used to calculate the weekly rate of benefits in the 52-week period prior to the beginning of the labour dispute, presumably the time during which the worker was working.

As we are all aware, both employers and workers pay premiums so that workers may collect benefits if they are unable to work. This may be because a worker is laid off, a worker is sick, pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or is providing care or support to a gravely ill family member.

The EI program is not meant to be a measure that would interfere in any way with a labour dispute or take or advantage one side of a labour dispute over another.

It is clear that Bill C-395 would go against the principle that the employment insurance system should remain neutral during a labour dispute. If Bill C-395 were passed, this could affect the negotiating position of the parties involved, change incentives and perhaps influence the outcome of a labour dispute. This simply should not be the place of the EI system and my hon. colleagues should, quite frankly, agree with me on this particular point.

To make matters worse, this particular bill's coming into force clause would cause the bill's provision to have effect retroactively, looking and reaching back almost three years to start, and even further back in the case of labour disputes in effect at that time.

These provisions are not wise at all.

I know we sometimes do things in this place, such as seeing the clock at a particular time to expedite things slightly and to make appropriate adjustments but deeming a bill to have come into force three years ago and to make retroactive its provisions even further back in time goes against good common sense. It would be a bad precedent, it would be bad law and, quite frankly, it should not be supported.

What about the cost of the bill? The cost must come from somewhere. Regardless of how one accounts for the money, the cost of the bill would have to come in the form of even higher deficits and higher debt.

I emphasize that we are empathetic of workers who are laid off. I think we all can and we all do and, most certainly, extended labour disputes are not pleasant to endure for anyone involved. However, we need to balance that understanding with practical considerations.

Our government must ensure that careful consideration is given to labour market impacts and costs of changes that are proposed. We must be responsible with our policy, programs and spending. That is the very approach that our government has taken since we came to office and we will continue to do so into the future. We must always be mindful that change does not happen in a vacuum and we must take into account the possible impacts of changes like this.

The legislation proposes that the length of the qualifying period should be extended when a labour dispute occurs. We should view this bill in context. Quite simply, the context is that most labour disputes are relatively short and rarely end in the closure of a firm.

The figures have been stated previously but merit repeating. Between 2003 and 2009, for example, a little more than 1% of the total number of strikes ended in a firm's closure. The average length of the strike that ended in a firm's closure was 110 days. For lockouts, the figure was 116 days. These figures average out to 16 weeks. That leaves plenty of time for employees to qualify for benefits under the current 52-week requirement.

By these comments I do not want to suggest that I or our government is unsympathetic to the plight of the unemployed. It is far from it. It is simply that we need to take account of the facts to inform our decision-making.

I would also add that the incidence of firm closures for those aforementioned labour disputes remain very low. For strikes it was 1.3% and 3.6% for lockouts. Therefore, statistically speaking, we are talking about very rare and limited circumstances. As I said, we empathize with the workers involved in the few longer disputes but we must approach the proposed changes to the system with caution and clear heads.

Current provisions now in effect do allow for the extension of the qualifying period up to 104 weeks in situations where individuals are unable to work for reasons such as quarantine or illness. The provisions exclude labour dispute situations however because the individuals are not prevented from working elsewhere by our laws or by the EI system.

This is an important point. While a labour dispute drags on, the workers involved are not prevented by the EI system from working elsewhere. The idea behind this bill is that these workers are not able to accumulate sufficient hours to qualify for EI if they are laid off or the firm closes after the dispute. However, that is not entirely accurate. In many cases, those workers choose not to seek other employment for reasons of their own. They are not prevented from doing so and, therefore, this must also be taken into account.

The proposed amendments contained in Bill C-395 would create inconsistencies with this provision by creating an undefined extension to the qualifying period if a labour dispute occurs. That would be problematic. I think the bill is flawed in quite a number of ways and should not be supported.

That is why the government will not be supporting the bill. It is not out of disregard for the unfortunate circumstances of some workers caught up in lengthy disputes but for the integrity of the system and the fairness of its treatment between employers and workers.

Our government has acted responsibly to enhance the employment insurance program. particularly since the economic slowdown. I could go through quite an extensive list, including five extra weeks of EI benefits, work sharing programs, skills upgrading and training provisions, and help for older workers. This bill's sponsors have consistently voted against those responsible improvements and have instead proposed irresponsible, flawed and costly measures in their place.

This bill is no different than their other proposals. It would be costly, run roughshod over the principle of neutrality, which is very important, it would have very narrow effect and it would create inconsistencies that would jeopardize the fairness and integrity of the system. This bill should not become a part of the EI system and therefore I would urge all members of the House not to support it.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss Bill C-395 yet again. As most of us know, this is not the first time. This is a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Currently, the EI Act does not specify that the qualifying period should be extended in the event of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute. This is not clear. The qualifying period of the 52-week period immediately before the start date of a claim or the period since the start of a previous EI claim is that a claim has started during the 52-week period.

This private member's bill aims to extend the qualifying period during the length of the labour dispute so that the employee will not be penalized under the EI system. For example, the employee has worked full-time for three years, at which time there is a work stoppage as a result of labour dispute that lasts, for example, 10 weeks. Shortly after returning to work, the employee is laid off. When submitting an EI claim, the qualifying period would be 52 weeks. Under this proposed amendment, the qualifying period would be 62 weeks, thereby ensuring that the period during the labour dispute does not affect one's ability to qualify for EI benefits, which is what we are trying to do.

As this House knows, this bill was reported back from committee on May 6 with amendments. It has gone to committee before. Hopefully we can get it back there again. With regard to clause 1 in Bill C-395, the report back from committee said:

That Bill C-395, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 19 on page 1 with the following:

“the person was employed, provided that, for the purposes of determining the weekly rate of benefits, the qualifying period is established retrospectively to the fifty-two weeks preceding the beginning of the dispute.”

This amendment clarifies that the weekly rate will be based on the 52-week period preceding the beginning of the dispute. This is really about clarify the act, which is not very clear, and about not penalizing workers. As we and others have said, the act is not clear on how to treat the qualifying period with respect to a work stoppage. This bill aims to clarify the qualifying period. We have heard many discussing this and I have just mentioned how that works.

The workers should not be penalized. Individuals cannot work during a labour dispute. Whether it is a lockout or a strike, they do not have a job and therefore they are not accumulating hours. If they are laid off through no fault of their own after the dispute ends, we should not penalize them for the weeks that they were on work stoppage. Essentially that is what happens now because the act is not clear.

The bill would extend the qualifying period for the length of the work stoppage, which is what we are discussing and that it does help in that case. This bill could also make the qualifying period longer than 104 weeks should the work stoppage last more than 52 weeks. Again, its aim is to ensure that the workers are not being penalized for that period of work stoppage, whether it is a lockout or a strike, so that they are entitled to their full amount of EI.

A lockout or strike should not impact whether the workers can qualify for EI if they are laid off after the work stoppage. The number of people who are laid off after a work stoppage is not a large number, I am told from all of the discussions that I have had with various people, both at the department and in other places.

The EI Act is already quite convoluted and complex, as most of us know, and it is sometimes difficult to navigate. For instance, if there is a work stoppage involved with the EI claim, it can be contentious if it is not specifically prescribed in the act, which it is not at the moment. This bill would make the process simpler and clearly defines how a claim can proceed if the worker was part of a work stoppage in the 52 weeks before being laid off. It lays that out and makes it much clearer for everybody so that we do not have the situation which we have now, where there can be disputes and claimants end up in arbitration.

When people lose their jobs because of a long labour dispute, it now prevents them from accumulating the required hours in the 52 preceding weeks. This would make people ineligible for EI for a big chunk of their time.

With the bill, the benefits could be calculated based on the weeks worked prior to a labour dispute, despite the length of it, so they have a seamless contribution for all of their work. As I said before, workers do not always choose to stay on strike and, in most cases, they do not work.

There has been some discussion with respect to the cost. I know the Conservatives claim that this would only affect 1% of the firms that close following a dispute. They say that this is a bad thing and that it is not worth it. However, if we are talking about 1%, even for those companies that do not shut down, and in most cases they do not, the number of workers who are fired after that dispute is very small.

With the numbers that were provided by the Conservative government, it seems the liability in this case would not a large one. It is clear that there has to be some regard for the workers, but I do not think there is. We are looking at families in communities that may be losing finances. It is not a very large liability. I think the parliamentary secretary said that it would be only 1% of those that would close after a strike.

The Conservatives always like to blame the workers when they are on strike, but that is not always the case. As we know, employers also have the ability to lock out workers. We cannot assume that the workers are to blame. In this system there should not be blame. It should simply be a situation of what is right in terms of income.

If workers are laid off and cannot qualify for EI because of the length of the dispute, the government penalizes them, yet there is no penalty for the employers. Again, there needs to be an equity situation. Employees need to have some assistance and we need to ensure their rights to EI are not lost.

The Conservative like to claim that the employees can get other jobs during a labour dispute. What they do not understand is it is difficult to get another job when employees hope to go back to their jobs. If they go back to work following a labour dispute and then are laid off, this does not change the fact that they should quality for EI.

Therefore, finding part time work may be possible, but it is not always a reality and not always likely. Employers want to know where workers have come from. They do not necessarily like to hire people who are on strike. This argument makes the assumption that everyone who is on lockout or on strike is making another salary somewhere else and therefore they do not have a need for EI.

If one were to talk to the people who were on strike in the Vale Inco situation in Sudbury, one would see the hardship that the strike created not only for the employees but for the whole of the region, the city of Sudbury and other groups.

Workers pay into these benefits and a labour dispute should not impact their ability to collect benefits when they are laid off through no fault of their own after a lockout or the labour dispute.

Like the Conservatives say, only 1% of companies supposedly close after a strike, which is a small number. However, a majority of the people who would be affected are those where there is no shutdown. There is a gap and it must be fixed. The cost is minimal.

Others today have commented on that and the government representative also said that it was a small number. The government needs to stop penalizing employees and actually help them, their families and their communities.

This only applies if workers are fired after a strike, and the numbers are small. It is only fair that they not lose EI benefits to which they have a right.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-395, which was introduced by the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

We support this bill, unlike the Conservatives, who say it will cost too much. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources would have us believe the bill is too expensive for people, the public, workers and companies, yet he says that only 1% to 3% of workers could benefit. This change to employment insurance is not for all laid-off workers. The EI program already takes care of that. This is about companies that have gone through a strike or a lockout and decide to close their doors for good or companies that, under the same circumstances, decide to call 75% of their workers back to work. Those are the people we are talking about. We are not asking for much. The cost is quite minimal. Do not believe the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources when he says that this would be too expensive.

In his speech, the parliamentary secretary said that if, during some or all of the weeks in the normal 52-week period—less if the person received benefits—the person was incapable of working because of an illness or pregnancy, or if that person was receiving assistance as part of an employment benefit or provincial benefits, the qualifying period could be extended by the number of days the person was in that situation during the qualifying period. This period can be extended by a maximum of 52 weeks to reach a maximum qualifying period of 104 weeks.

The parliamentary secretary forgot to mention one specific situation. I do not know whether he was too uncomfortable to talk about it, but this also applies to people in prison. If a person is in prison, the period will be extended to 104 weeks. The parliamentary secretary failed to mention that group. A person in prison can have 104 weeks, but people who were locked out or who were part of a legal strike are not entitled to have their weeks extended.

I know why companies are against this. I have dealt with the kind of companies that oppose such legislation. At the end of a strike, companies can punish workers by delivering a final blow. As if it were not enough that workers were on strike or locked out for 10 months, and as if companies had not bled them enough, companies are intent on getting every last drop. They do not call workers back to work for another two months or so. They want to teach them a harsh lesson because the workers apparently have not suffered enough.

What difference does it make to company's bottom line if it does not call workers back to work and they collect EI? Let us look at this from a different angle: according to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources, all an individual has to do is find work elsewhere. Just find another job. That is tantamount to calling that individual a slacker. He should have said outright that workers who do not go out looking for work while on strike are simply sitting on their hands and unwilling to work.

The real question is whether the employer, the company, actually wants employees to go work elsewhere. Fully qualified individuals with a trade could leave the company for another one. By the time the strike is over, there would be no employees left to work for that employer.

Is the government suggesting that, during a strike, workers should find work with a different employer, thereby leaving the company with no employees? Labour disputes are recognized under federal legislation. Under federal law, employees have the right to strike, and companies have the right to lock them out. Obviously, companies do not want to lose their employees.

That is what I believe, unless I am mistaken. Maybe it would not bother a company with only 10 or 15 employees if those employees were to go elsewhere, because it could replace them. However, a company that has 1,000 employees would not want to lose them all at the end of a legal labour dispute, because they are skilled and familiar with the industry.

The parliamentary secretary failed to mention another thing. I will not repeat what he said, but I will try to explain it. He said it does not make sense to support someone who is on strike or has been locked out. Yet it was his government that agreed to loan Vale Inco $1 billion during the strike there, while the workers at Voisey's Bay—working for the same company—were still on strike. When that company's workers were on strike, the government was willing to loan it $1 billion. We all know how things work: after three or four years the company will say that things are not going well and the government will simply forgive its debt. The company will not even have to pay back its loan.

The Conservative government says it respects workers, yet it does not want to help people after a labour dispute. People have paid into the EI system their entire lives and at the end of the labour dispute, within the 104 days, it is not that they do not want to return to work, but rather that the employer has not called them back to work. Between 75% and 80% of workers return to work, but the other 20% are told to go back home and apply for welfare.

It is not up to the province to pay for labour disputes. If those people ask for social assistance, the province should not have to pay for that. The purpose of the employment insurance system is to allow people to look for another job. When someone is on strike or locked out, he or she is not looking for another job, so there is a contradiction here. As soon as the company opens its doors again and the dispute is over—whether it was a lockout or a strike— some workers are looking for jobs, and that is when they should be entitled to EI and given an income. That way, they can provide for their families while they are looking for another job. The government seems to be missing the boat on this particular point.

If we can give employment insurance benefits to people in prison and those accused of all kinds of things, I would think that we could also give them to these workers. I am not against allowing prisoners to receive employment insurance, but if they can receive benefits, I would think that, when a labour dispute is over, workers should be able to receive them as well. I am not talking about giving employment insurance benefits to people while they are on strike or are locked out. It is clear that if someone were to go work elsewhere, they would be entitled to a certain number of weeks of EI, but they would not receive money from the strike fund.

We are not talking about making workers entitled to employment insurance during a strike, which would benefit the employees at the expense of the employer. If, when the dispute ends, the employer tells its employees that it can no longer employ them because of the economic crisis, or that it may, perhaps, be able to rehire them in six months, why should these workers not be entitled to employment insurance?

The only reason is that the Conservative government is siding with the large corporations, and not the workers. It is not capable of doing a little something to respect workers by giving them access to a program that belongs to them, and not to the Government of Canada.

I suggest that the government change its mind and vote in favour of the bill to show respect for workers. If it can grant loans to a company like Vale Inco, a multi-million-dollar corporation, it should also be able to give money to workers after a labour dispute ends.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for shepherding a bill I introduced through the House.

It is not just the workers in Lebel-sur-Quévillon who are affected. Many other workers may be as well. Lebel-sur-Quévillon was just the first example of how the modernization of the Employment Insurance Act by former Liberal prime minister and finance minister Paul Martin allowed the government to take money out of the employment insurance fund—which was known as the unemployment insurance fund at the time—to pay down the debt.

But employment insurance is not a tax. The government is using it as a hidden tax, but it is not a tax. It is insurance that workers and employers pay for to keep employees nearby. A strike or lockout is a lawful action by workers or an employer and should be encouraged as a positive measure. It should not be a positive measure for one party and a negative measure for the other, because both pay into the employment insurance fund and have the right to keep workers nearby during a labour dispute.

The parliamentary secretary was present when I testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I explained very clearly that Bill C-395 would exclude the period of the strike or lockout, which is legal, from the qualifying period. This does not take anything away from the government. It does not cost the government or its treasury anything. The employment insurance fund belongs to employers and workers.

Regrettably, I do not have much time, but I am happy to speak today to Bill C-395, which would make the workers in Lebel-sur-Quévillon eligible for EI.

According to statistics from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, more than half of unemployed workers do not have access to employment insurance, even though they have paid into the plan. If passed, Bill C-395 will not fix every flaw, but it will correct a major shortcoming in the act. I am talking about cases where workers who lose their jobs as a result of a lengthy labour dispute—whether a strike or a lockout—do not qualify for employment insurance.

The Minister of Natural Resources, who is also the minister responsible for the Montreal region, might have to deal with this problem with regard to the Journal de Montréal if Quebecor were to decide tomorrow morning to drop the Journal de Montréal and focus on the Journal de Québec. The journalists and employees of the Journal de Montréal—there are 253 of them and this is in the news today—would not be entitled to employment insurance. In a modern economy, this is unacceptable and unfair. When parliamentarians read about an injustice committed in the past, it is their duty to correct it. They should not try to avoid it for the sake of ideology or party lines.

I believe it is important for all elected members to show empathy when the time comes to discuss measures to help workers and to encourage land occupancy. The Conservatives might be pleased to know that this has been around since Mackenzie King's day. He had a reputation for consulting ghosts. Even if the Liberal leader dabbled in that, the fact remains that EI was set up to maintain land occupancy and, at the time, to move toward a modern economy.

Unfortunately, employment insurance has not kept up with this modern economy.

A number of MPs come from Quebec. I understand that ideologies from the west and the east might be different and that a party line can get in the way. Nonetheless, the MPs from Quebec who are part of this government know the ideology and culture of Quebec. They can explain those things to their party and even have a bit of power within their party—it is about time—in order to raise awareness about the growing need for modern society to occupy the land.

We are dealing with an economic problem. The Minister of Finance acknowledges that the current deficit is close to $170 billion. Nonetheless, it is not up to a specific category of workers and employers to be responsible for paying the deficit themselves.

I would like to point out that as members of Parliament we do not contribute to employment insurance and therefore do not help pay off the deficit. Employment insurance is being used to pay off the deficit.

Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary thinks, I believe that favouring one party over another distorts principles, circumstances and facts, and that is deplorable. The UN's message should make the government realize what the world thinks about Canada in all this. Who represents Canada? The government does.

As I explained earlier, the bill would exclude a certain time period; the period from when the strike or lockout is declared to the time it ends is not part of the calculation. At the end of the lockout, if the result is a closure or a number of workers losing their jobs, the qualifying period would be deemed to begin when the strike or lockout started and would be applied as though it began on that date.

One of the arguments used by opponents to this bill is that the cost to implement this measure would be too high. This is an argument that I have never understood because it is completely unfounded. I have never understood why they are against it. Despite the fact that in its last budget this government recognized its obligation to create an independent employment insurance fund, that fund has never been created and they continue to pillage the EI fund. It is important that today, for the future of our economy, this injustice be fixed and the parties come to a legal agreement.

I urge the government to help the opposition parties, which are all in favour of this bill, and to acknowledge, once and for all, the vision of Parliament. The opposition parties hold the majority. A good deal means that the parties reach an agreement among themselves. They have the power to make recommendations. Parliament has decided to support this bill. I invite the government to follow this lead and correct this injustice.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

October 18th, 2010 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague on his excellent speech on Bill C-395. His own riding has been affected by the lack of legislation in this area.

This is the last speech about this bill. I have only five minutes left to wind up and convince the Conservatives to go forward with this bill. It should have been passed and should be passed, because it is a simple, effective solution to a major flaw in the Employment Insurance Act that prevents workers who lose their jobs as a result of a labour dispute—whether a lockout or a strike—from qualifying for employment insurance.

By refusing to give the royal recommendation to Bill C-395, as it did to Bill C-241, which also proposed measures to support workers by abolishing the waiting period, the minority Conservative government is once again showing that it could not care less about workers who lose their jobs. By refusing to support this bill, this minority Conservative government is once again ignoring the democratic will of this House. Most members want this bill to go forward, but the Conservatives are still turning a deaf ear.

Unfortunately, by blocking Bill C-395 and preventing it from going to the Senate, the Conservative government is turning its back on workers who lose their jobs. Throughout this debate, the Conservatives have put forward bizarre arguments, and I would like to mention one that the parliamentary secretary made here just a few minutes ago. He said in his speech that if this bill were passed, it would affect the negotiating position of workers and employers during lockouts and strikes. This is what it means to him: “Someone is on strike or is locked out, but does not want to find a solution. He does not want to go back to work because he wants to get employment insurance benefits.” Come on. If I am a worker and I am on strike or I am locked out, I do not necessarily want to go on EI. I want to go back to my job at the company and I want to negotiate fair, equitable conditions to keep my job. That is my goal.

The Conservative government's argument does not hold water. As I have said many times, this government does not want to support society's least fortunate. It is not the least bit interested in these people or in the unemployed. The guaranteed income supplement is another example. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they kept urging the Liberal government to increase and improve the guaranteed income supplement and to compensate seniors for having swindled them. They are in power now, but they are not doing anything. They just keep spending astronomical amounts on all sorts of things, from buying planes to giving oil companies tax breaks. What we have here is a small bill designed to help workers, a bill that will cost next to nothing. As my colleague indicated, the Journal de Montréal may be next. Yet we are told that there is no money. There is no money for that, and that is shameful.

If there are any unemployed people in their ridings—surely there are some—government members should think of them. They should think a little instead of constantly investing inordinate amounts to support companies, including banks, that rake in huge profits and use tax shelters. The government helps and supports them. It should also support the workers.

I ask the parliamentary secretary, here in this House, to urge his colleagues in the governing party to vote in favour of providing the royal recommendation to Bill C-395.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

May 6th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second and third reports of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute) and Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system).

The committee has studied both bills and has decided to report Bill C-395 back to the House with an amendment, and Bill C-308 without amendment.

I wish to thank all the committee members for their hard work and collaboration in getting these bills through.

Fairness for Military Families (Employment Insurance) Act
Government Orders

May 6th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-13 before us today proposes a necessary change to the employment insurance system, and for that reason, we will support it.

It fixes one of the countless injustices in the employment insurance system, which stopped long ago providing real insurance in case of job loss. With this bill, military personnel will be able to get the parental leave to which they would otherwise have been entitled if they had not been summoned to leave on a mission.

The work our military personnel do takes great bravery and they should be congratulated on their spirit of sacrifice, their courage and all that they accomplish for their fellow citizens.

Their work requires them to constantly put their lives on the line. For this, they deserve our respect of course, but most of all, they deserve to be treated fairly and equitably. Justice cannot be blind. Different or exceptional cases cannot be treated in the same way as all the rest. Canadian Forces members inevitably find themselves in an exceptional situation when asked to leave on a mission.

The current Employment Insurance Act provides for a 52-week benefit period, that is, the time that someone who is entitled to benefits has to claim them. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example when a child is hospitalized or in the case of extended benefits for long-tenured workers. However, Canadian Forces members were not included.

We have excellent news for them, therefore, because once the bill passes, they will know that serving in the Canadian Forces will not, paradoxically, cause them undue harm and they will get the benefits to which they are entitled and for which they pay employment insurance premiums, like virtually all workers. They deserve these benefits.

In regard to all the various bills proposing improvements to employment insurance, we basically feel that we say the same thing over and over. We repeat the same old refrain because we are always confronted with the same old problem: the inability to access benefits.

The same problem is tackled, for example, in Bill C-395, introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé, which proposes that the qualifying period, that is the period taken into account to determine the number of insurable hours, is considered to be the 52 weeks preceding the outbreak of a labour dispute. In other words, the period during which a labour dispute is underway and the workers are therefore not accumulating very many insurable hours would not be included. This means that if they lose their jobs at the end of the dispute—something that is not very frequent but does happen sometimes—they are not left without any resources.

The same logic prevails here as in the government bill. Benefits would be provided to workers who, through no individual fault of their own, find themselves cut off from employment insurance. There are always two parties to a labour dispute, the employers and the employees. Employees do not just decide to have a labour dispute. There is usually a period of negotiations during which they hope to arrive at a settlement and the dialogue with their employer is maintained. Most of all, though, they hope that the 25 years they spent working for the company and contributing to the employment insurance system will count for something and they will receive benefits, if and when needed.

In this case, if the business shuts down just before the labour dispute, the workers would be entitled to benefits. We want the weeks preceding a labour dispute to be taken into account. But according to the Employment Insurance Act, if a business shuts down after a labour dispute that lasts more than one year, these workers are left with nothing. They are financially destitute because they would have had to make do on meagre strike pay, which usually covers the bare minimum needed to survive.

That is another example of the injustices currently found within the system, and it is very similar to the cases of soldiers who did not have access to the parental benefits they should have been entitled to.

In both cases, the legislative solution is quite simple, and does not involve massive amounts of money from EI. On the contrary, the amounts required are quite insignificant. Of course, they are not insignificant to the claimants involved, for whom this represents a lot of money. For some, it means the difference between bankruptcy and financial survival, between the anxiety of losing everything and the hope of having a chance to start over.

That is why there has been so much criticism of the employment insurance system for several years now: this system no longer does what it was designed to do.

I would like to quote Michel Ducharme, the president of the Montreal branch of the FTQ, who recently testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities regarding Bill C-395.

We are all paying into that system, both workers and employers, and these contributions are intended to protect us in cases of plant or company closures. That is part of what makes them legitimate. When a labour dispute arises when a collective agreement is to be renewed, the idea is to save jobs. Some unions provide strike pay, but the whole idea is not to be off the job, but rather to save that job, preserve working conditions and reach an agreement. If that turns out not to work, that is something the worker has no control over [which is what I was saying earlier]. The workers pay into the system for 25 or 30 years, and are working for a company that has always operated and has never had layoffs. Then, from one day to the next, the company shuts down. It is illogical for people not to be eligible for employment insurance benefits in those cases. That is precisely the whole purpose of these benefits.

Like the employment insurance system, the veterans charter seems to have also lost its original function, and today, it is also the subject of fierce criticism, notably from the veterans ombudsman. Passing the New Veterans Charter means that, from now on, veterans with psychological problems or physical disabilities resulting from their service in the armed forces will no longer receive an annuity, which guaranteed them some financial security. Instead, they will receive a single lump sum payment.

It was soon noticed that this amount was clearly inadequate and that, in the end, it was much less than the sum they would have received if the compensation had been paid out monthly. That is one more example of the Conservative government's lack of compassion for people in need and who, on the contrary, can use the help.

The numbers speak for themselves. Upon their return from Kandahar, 4% of soldiers have suicidal thoughts, 4.6% of them have symptoms of major depression and 15% suffer from mental health issues. Those numbers are huge.

That is why it does not make sense to give a single large sum of money to people who are, by definition, unstable and likely to squander the money in no time. Veterans with PTSD often have alcohol or drug problems.

I want to point out that the member for Québec very recently presented a petition urging the government to end this practice, which can cause major problems for some injured soldiers. All we can do now is hope that the government will heed the soldiers' call for more humane treatment. This government seems to have a tendency to take a clear-cut business approach to all services provided to the people.

For example, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development recently compared the employment insurance waiting period to the deductible associated with, say, car or home insurance. That kind of cynicism conflicts with the role of the state.

When the Veterans Ombudsman, Colonel Patrick Stogran, appeared before the Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs on April 22, he had this to say about the administrative culture that prevails in the Department of Veterans Affairs: “It's very much an insurance company approach to doing business.”

He went on to say that:

I feel very strongly that the culture has to change. I feel very strongly that to do that it has to go towards a needs-based approach. I also feel very strongly that in order to satisfy that needs-based approach, case managers on the front lines have to be empowered to offer veterans what they really need. I think that's the principle upon which this program is based.

He could have said the same thing about the employment insurance system as it is currently managed. His comments would have been just as relevant. In both cases, a major overhaul is critical to restoring and respecting the intent behind the creation of both programs: meeting people's needs so that they can maintain a sense of dignity in hard times. Right now, they are forced to fight to get anything over and above the often ridiculously low lump sum the army gives them.

In the January 9 edition of Le Soleil, Francine Matteau, the Quebec woman who started the petition presented by the member for Québec, said this about the compensation her son received, and I quote:

“The first offer the army made him was ridiculous, so he appealed and they offered him just over $100,000. He has to appeal again now, because that is not enough,” she complained, pointing out that her son, who has learned to walk again but struggles to get around, no longer meets the army's standards and cannot easily hold another job. “Medals and commendations are great, but they don't pay the mortgage or buy groceries!”...

The article goes on:

Mrs. Matteau says that the UK is much more generous to veterans and in December 2008 increased the maximum benefit for British soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan from $470,000 to $940,000.

“In addition to this benefit, wounded British soldiers receive a monthly pension that can increase the total lifetime benefits to more than $1.5 million,” states Mrs. Matteau, who now hopes to make the public aware of the fate of Canadian soldiers wounded in action.

Knowing that the maximum benefit in Canada is $276,000, we have a better understanding of why our soldiers are frustrated. To continue the comparison with employment insurance, the government runs these two programs with the same twisted logic, forcing potential benefit recipients to fight the government machine for their rights.

Is this how the Conservative government thinks we should thank workers and members of the military, who work extremely hard for their families, their fellow citizens and their society?

In another article that appeared in La Presse, the veterans ombudsman did not mince words:

“Soldiers should not have to worry about their standard of living. They should be confident that, regardless of their injuries, they will be able to support their families and themselves...They should not have to worry about the rest of their lives when they are trying to recover from physical and psychological injuries.”

I do not want to downplay the importance of the legislative amendment the Conservative government is proposing with Bill C-13, but I believe that we can safely say that there may be more important issues to deal with when it comes to the treatment of Canadian soldiers.

Reforming the Veterans Charter is something the government could do that would really prove that it supports our troops—as it claims to do. It is not enough to say it in the House. Once again, they need to follow through on their fine words and listen to the veterans who are speaking out by the thousands against a program that treats them like beggars, when on the contrary, that program should evince some sign of the gratitude we own them for the sacrifices they have made.

As legislators, we cannot be insensitive to the difficulties facing our veterans, who are often affected by their war injuries, whether physical or psychological, for the rest of their lives. These are people who face difficulties right away, from the very fact of joining the armed forces, because they are separated from their families and loved ones. Injured or not, they deserve recognition for the extraordinary work that they do.

In closing, I would like to reiterate the Bloc's support for the bill currently before the House, that is, Bill C-13. As I was saying, it will redress the injustices committed against CF members, and we should feel good about that. However, in that context, I cannot help but see and draw some parallels between the situation facing other workers who are also being deprived of the EI benefits they are entitled to, and the situation facing our wounded veterans.

Since justice requires that everyone get what they deserve, we cannot remain silent when the issue is before us. We must speak out against all injustices.

Business of the House

March 3rd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business. Standing Order 86.1 states that all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that have been listed on the order paper during the previous session shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 40th Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

All items will keep the same number as in the first and second sessions of the 40th Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the order paper, but had not yet been introduced, will be republished on the order paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be re-certified by the office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

All items in the order of precedence are deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation. Thus, they shall stand, if necessary, on the order paper in the same place or, as the case may be, referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

At prorogation, there were 11 private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to the appropriate committee. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1: Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Bill C-310, An Act to Provide Certain Rights to Air Passengers, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Bill C-391, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (repeal of long-gun registry), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument, is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Bill C-464, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (justification for detention in custody), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Pursuant to Standing Order 97, committees will be required to report on these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, one private members’ bill originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bill is deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House.

Bill C-268, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum sentence for offences involving trafficking of persons under the age of eighteen years). Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted this bill.

As they are no longer members of this House, all the items standing in the name of Ms. Dawn Black, Mr. Bill Casey and Mr. Paul Crête will be dropped from the order paper.

Consideration of Private Members’ Business will start on Friday, March 5, 2010.

To conclude, hon. members will find at their desks an explanatory note recapitulating these remarks. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in the third session. In addition, the table can answer any questions members may have.

Speaker's Ruling
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 16th, 2009 / 11 a.m.
See context

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader on October 7, 2009 concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute) standing in the name of the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter, as well as the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé for his remarks concerning the bill.

In presenting his concerns with respect to Bill C-395, the parliamentary secretary stated that in his view the bill infringes upon the financial initiative of the crown. Specifically, he pointed out that the bill seeks to change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by adding a new provision that would extend the qualifying period for an undefined period in case of a work stoppage caused by a labour dispute. He also argued that by altering the calculation of the qualifying period, the bill would result in increased government spending on employment insurance.

In support of his contention that the bill requires a royal recommendation, the parliamentary secretary made reference to a Speaker's ruling on Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) on March 23, 2007 and a ruling by the Speaker of the Senate in Bill S-207, an Act to Amend the Employment Insurance Act (foreign postings) on January 29, 2009.

Both bills were similar to the present bill in that they sought to modify the employment insurance qualifying period, and both were found to require royal recommendation.

In his intervention, the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé argued that a royal recommendation is not required since the funds in the employment insurance account are paid by workers and employers and do not constitute government funds.

The Chair has examined the bill carefully and, it is clear beyond all doubt that Bill C-395 alters the terms and conditions of the existing program under the Employment Insurance Act. The argument put forth by the hon. member for Berthier--Maskinongé regarding whether or not funds contributed to the employment insurance fund constitute public revenue is a recurring argument. It has been brought forward during similar discussions on Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) as well as Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) from the previous Parliament. In essence, all monies received by the government, regardless of source, are deposited in the consolidated revenue fund and become public funds, that is, funds of the Crown. The Constitution Act of 1867 and Standing Order 79 apply to these funds. Thus, a bill proposing a new or increased expenditure of public funds, that is, an appropriation, requires a royal recommendation.

The employment insurance program operates under this framework. The funds in question are public funds and their management is subject to the financial initiative of the Crown.

By extending the qualifying period for employment insurance benefits by the amount of time a person was unemployed due to a work stoppage resulting from a labour dispute, Bill C-395 is increasing the expenditures under the act. These expenditures would be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund. As the House is aware, such provisions can only be put to the House for a final decision if they are accompanied by a royal recommendation as set out in Standing Order 79(1). Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading, and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the current debate.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 16th, 2009 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to debate the merits or demerits of Bill C-395 today.

Let me begin by acknowledging that labour disputes do affect Canadians, and sometimes Canadians do find themselves unemployed at the end of such disputes. My colleague from the Bloc obviously cares about these workers, as do all members of the House. I am sure of this, but we must go beyond good intentions. As the old saying goes, good intentions can lead us down a path on which we would be better not to go.

We must probe the potential policy and legal impacts of these proposed amendments on the Employment Insurance Act. We must ensure that any changes to the employment insurance system are based on hard evidence, and we must look at the practical facts on the ground. When we conduct this investigation, the implications of Bill C-395 become troubling on several levels. Let me discuss some of my concerns.

First, let us deal with the practical facts on the ground. In the history of law and legislation, we have seen that another old saying is also true, that often extreme cases make bad law. I recognize that this bill is intended to protect employees who are caught in a lengthy labour dispute that ends in a firm's closure. This result of course is regrettable and often difficult on the workers affected.

We should view this in context, however. Most labour disputes are relatively short and they rarely end in the closure of a firm. Between 2003 and 2009, for example, a little more than one per cent, only one per cent, of the total number of strikes ended in a firm's closure. Moreover, the average length of a strike that ended in a firm's closure was 110 days. For lockouts, the figure was 116 days. As the parliamentary secretary noted, these figures average out to 16 weeks. That leaves plenty of time for employees to qualify for benefits under the current 52-week requirement.

By these comments, I do not want to suggest that I am or our government is unsympathetic to the plight of the unemployed, far from it. Simply, we need to take account of the facts to inform our decision-making. Here are some of the facts.

The Employment Insurance Act does not preclude workers from accepting other employment during a labour dispute. The act allows employees to accumulate the work hours required to establish a claim for benefits. Specifically, through the variable entrance requirement, employees need between 420 and 700 insurable hours to qualify for regular benefits, depending upon the unemployment rate in the applicant's region.

In other words, using existing provisions of the act, employees in a labour dispute could qualify for benefits by building up their hours through work elsewhere. For this reason alone, the provisions in Bill C-395 are inadvisable.

Let us also recall that the employment insurance system is an insurance-based program. It is designed to provide benefits to workers if they are unable to work, whether because they are unemployed, sick, pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or caring for a gravely ill family member. This regime is supported by the premiums paid by both workers and employers.

When a worker meets the qualifying requirement, benefits kick in. It is that simple. The proposal before the House goes against the guiding principle that the EI program should remain neutral during a labour dispute.

My colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain pointed out correctly that allowing the provision of benefits to workers, paid for in part by employers, during a labour dispute would disrupt the system's balanced treatment, tilting the system in favour of workers in a situation where they are negotiating with management. This bill would make changes such that the negotiating position of unions and workers would be unfairly improved at the cost of employers, who pay 58% of employment insurance premiums. I simply do not think this change is something we should undertake.

There are other related aspects of this bill which I do not think are wise. Specifically, the bill proposes to change how the EI program calculates a qualifying period in the event of a labour dispute that leads to work stoppage. As members know, the qualifying period is the time in which a claimant must accumulate enough hours of insurable employment to establish a claim for benefits.

Currently it is generally the 52 weeks preceding the beginning of a claim. In some cases the period can be shorter when there was a prior claim. The bill would extend the qualifying period to be the same as the period of the labour dispute. This would allow employees to be eligible for employment insurance benefits if they are laid off after a lengthy labour dispute is resolved.

Existing provisions allow for the extension of a qualifying period to up to 104 weeks in certain situations. These exceptions include situations in which individuals are physically unable to work, such as quarantine and sickness. Labour disputes are not considered an exception, because individuals are not physically prevented from working. They could work somewhere else. The proposals in Bill C-395 would therefore deviate from the EI program's basic insurance principle, that there must be a reasonable proximity of timing and correlation of value between premiums paid and benefits disbursed.

These are the reasons I think this bill is not wise. I welcome the chance to speak a little bit about some actions that I do think are wise. Those are the actions of this Conservative government both recently and as part of Canada's economic action plan. Since coming to office and particularly since the beginning of the economic downturn, our government has acted decisively to support unemployed Canadians and help them get back to work, but we have done so based on sound evidence that the changes are in the best interests of all Canadians.

Through Canada's economic action plan, our government has introduced measures that support all unemployed Canadians. Specifically, we have temporarily extended the duration of EI benefits by five weeks. We have made it easier to take part in work-sharing agreements, which are helping to protect the jobs of almost 167,000 Canadians. We are also helping young people get certified in skilled trades, and helping long-tenured workers make the transition into new careers.

We have frozen the employment insurance premium rates for 2010 so they will be at the same rate as this year, which is the lowest level in a quarter of a century, and we are providing an additional $1.5 billion to the provinces and territories to help support skills training. Our government has also recently passed measures in Bill C-50 that will help long-tenured workers who lost their jobs because of the global recession. These measures will now start to help ensure that approximately 190,000 long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for years are provided between five and 20 extra weeks of EI while they search for new employment. Surely we can identify with likely one or two businesses in every riding throughout this House. This much-needed support is in addition to the five weeks of EI included in the economic action plan. This is an important step for Canadian workers who have worked hard, have paid taxes their whole lives and who find themselves in economic hardship.

Our government recognizes that the self-employed are an integral part of our economy. We believe that self-employed Canadians should not have to choose between their family and business responsibilities. That is why in 2008 our government committed to extending maternity and paternity benefits to the self-employed. On November 3, 2009 we introduced Bill C-56, the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act, which provides all EI special benefits, including maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits to self-employed Canadians on a voluntary basis.

We have not just met our commitment to these 2.6 million Canadians, we have exceeded it. Bill C-56 has received a very positive response from a variety of stakeholders: the Grain Growers of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the Canadian Real Estate Association. I could go on and on.

The government has acted responsibly to enhance the employment insurance program, particularly since the global economic slowdown. For all these reasons, I cannot support the proposed amendments, and I urge all members of the House to join me in my opposition to the bill.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 16th, 2009 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-395, the proposed changes to the Employment Insurance Act with respect to labour disputes.

This legislation addresses what I think is a bit of a gap in the EI system right now and in the Employment Insurance Act. The question is: what should be done if the qualifying period for somebody who has lost his or her job includes work lost because of a labour disruption? This bill is a reasonable attempt to address the gap. At the very least, it is worthy of further study at committee, so we can identify whether or not there is more that needs to be done. Also, to some extent, we could perhaps address the issue of what the cost might be. I see that the Speaker has ruled that a royal recommendation will be required.

Let me speak to the issue this bill addresses and how it proposes to solve it. Right now, somebody's qualification for employment insurance is determined by the qualifying period that precedes the loss of employment, and that is 52 weeks. There are allowances for certain instances such as sickness, but not for work time lost due to a labour disruption.

During a labour dispute, employees cannot draw EI. They can, in some cases, receive strike pay. Or they could, conceivably, go out and get another job, although it is a very difficult circumstance in which to look for a job when one is hoping to go back to a job that one currently holds. If one gets strike pay, of course, it is different from having insurable earnings for EI.

It is always difficult to determine costs when we are looking at employment insurance. It involves very complex calculations. This year, we had the issue of what it actually costs in another area of qualification, the 360-hour national qualifying standard. Just over a year ago, last spring, because of a request from the committee looking at a private member's bill, the HRSDC department had estimated that cost at somewhere around $600 million or $700 million. The exact figure does not come to me, but it was in that range.

Other people have estimated it will cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year. That would make sense, because there are more people unemployed now than there were last spring, and there has been a slight escalation in cost. As a result of a request from the employment insurance working group established by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, we had the outrageous guesstimate, we might call it, of over $4 billion. They came back and said this would cost over $4 billion.

That did not make any sense. Everybody knew that was nuts. In fact, the government itself came back a little bit later and said the cost was actually about $2.5 billion. We asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer and he came in with a cost of about $1.1 billion, which notionally makes sense and obviously was statistically backed up. But that is why we have issues with costs when we start looking at employment insurance.

We have the same thing when we look at two-week waiting periods. What is the cost of a two-week waiting period? It is not really a waiting period; it is an out-of-luck period for a person who loses his or her job. What is the cost of that? The estimates have varied a bit on that, as is the case with this bill.

This bill does indicate that if a job is lost following a labour disruption, allowances can be made. It is very difficult for people and families who are already suffering from being unemployed because of a labour disruption when, all of a sudden, they come back and within a short period of time they are laid off completely and find out that their qualification for EI has been affected.

In essence, this bill will simply extend the qualifying period by the length of time of the labour dispute. As I have indicated before, qualifying is a huge problem in this country. It has been identified as the number one problem with the EI system. Many solutions have been proposed over the last number of years, and specifically in the last year.

We have had private member's Bill C-269 and private member's Bill C-265 from the member for Acadie—Bathurst and the member for Chambly—Borduas. In this session, we have looked at Bill C-241, Bill C-280 and Bill C-304. These are serious attempts to have a look at what the gaps are in the EI system, particularly at a time of economic difficulty.

We are still in this; we are still seeing job losses. We saw the numbers that came out the other day. There are still people in Canada who are losing their jobs. The economy needs a little bit of help. Everybody talks about stimulus. From any reports I have seen, the best stimulus is to invest in people who have lost their jobs or are in economic difficulty, because they will in fact put the money back into the economy, which is what stimulus is supposed to be all about.

We have heard from many people, including all the premiers from Ontario to the west, who normally have not spoken out much on employment insurance. All of the premiers of varying political stripes have said that we need to look at the issue of accessibility. We need to have a look at these variable entrance requirements, particularly at a time of economic difficulty, to see if they still make sense, because they are hurting the provinces. We heard that from the Minister of Finance's wife, when she was running for the leadership of her party in Ontario. We heard it from Premier Stelmach and Premier Campbell, and every premier, including Premier Brad Wall in Saskatchewan.

We have heard it from social policy groups. We have heard it from economists. We have even heard it from organizations that one might not normally think would call for such a thing. TD Economics has called for it. The Chamber of Commerce urged that we have a look at a couple of things in its prebudget submission this year, including entrance rates, but also at the two-week waiting period. These are all things that can be done to improve the system right away.

We have to have a look at what has the government done for employment insurance, recognizing finally that we are in a period of economic distress. As the House will recall, last November when the United States was already looking at proposals to assist people who were unemployed, we had an economic update that offered nothing.

In January, when we came back after Parliament was prorogued, EI was addressed in a specific way by adding five weeks of eligibility, which was a step forward in my view. If we look at the private members' bills that we have seen in the House over the past few years, the extra five weeks was always a small piece of it.

Of course, there was nothing on the two-week waiting period, nothing on accessibility, and nothing on increasing the rate of payment from 55% to 60%, which is called for a lot. But the five weeks were helpful and they were particularly helpful because they affected all Canadian workers; they did not pick winners and losers.

That is why the five weeks was a good piece of public policy at the time, but they are nowhere near to being enough and did not address the issue of accessibility that the 360-hour national standard would address. But the five weeks were something for all workers in Canada.

This fall we had a couple of pieces of legislation, one of them being Bill C-50, which would extend benefits from 5 to 20 weeks, but only for a select few, the fortunate few, in this country.

In the spring the government was saying that it was going to offer extra benefits to everyone, and then in the fall it said it was going to go back to a small percentage of the unemployed. One may qualify for between 5 and 20 weeks, but if one has drawn on EI before, too bad. If one happened to be a seasonal worker in northern New Brunswick, or in the fishing industry or the tourism industry, or others like that, one did not qualify for the extra 5 weeks.

That kind of discriminatory approach flies in the face of what the government was proposing to do at the beginning of the year, which was to provide equality in the employment insurance system, at least on the extension of benefits, if not in actually going to the number one source of irritation for Canadians, for workers, public sector unions, social policy groups, economists, think tanks, premiers and the wife of the finance minister. They were all saying that the system is not fair and that we have to fix it.

The reason it is not fair is that accessibility requirements range too much. At a time of economic difficulty, we need to do something to assist all Canadians and we need to make sure that people who lose their jobs do not feel like the government has forgotten them.

I would remind members that earlier this year the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was quoted as saying she did not want to make EI too lucrative. I remind the House and the millions who are watching at home that average employment insurance benefits are somewhere in the range of $330 a week. There are not that many people in the House who would want to work for $330 a week, or would feel very excited about losing their job so they could get $330 a week. I think the maximum is $440 a week.

EI is far from being a lucrative proposal for anyone. We have to keep in mind as well that people cannot draw EI in Canada if they voluntarily quit their jobs. If they quit their jobs, they do not get EI. They are told that they do not qualify. They can appeal it and they might be able to make their case, but they cannot quit their jobs and get EI.

Therefore, for an individual to suggest that EI is lucrative and that anyone would deliberately try to qualify for it, the individual would have to suggest that the person find a way to lose his or her job without quitting it. That person would have to get the employer to let him or her go so he or she could make 55% of his or her previous earnings.

Bill C-395 is worthy of consideration. I congratulate my colleague who brought it forward. We think it addresses a gap in the system. We think that at a time of economic difficulty, this is when we need to invest in employment insurance, because employment insurance assists Canadians when they need it the most, through no fault of their own from a work stoppage. It should not be made harder because of a labour disruption in the previous qualifying period.

Second Reading
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

November 16th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the hon. member for Shefford for his excellent speech on Bill C-395. In his many years at the FTQ, the member was an advocate for workers facing health and safety issues. It is clear that he is very concerned by what people affected by problems in the workplace, work accidents or a layoff are experiencing.

Of course, we are at the end of the study of the bill at second reading. The bill's objective is to improve the situation of workers affected by a labour dispute or a lockout. However, as my colleague so eloquently explained, if the qualifying period exceeds 52 weeks, people lose their entitlement to EI even though they worked for 20 or 30 years. That is shameful.

I have been here since 2004 and during that time, we have had many debates on EI. Many bills whose objective was to improve the EI system have been introduced in the House.

It is important to remember that workers and employers are the ones who contribute to the employment insurance fund. Over the past 15 or 20 years, the fund accumulated a surplus in excess of $57 billion. The government got that money from workers and employers. The government does not contribute to the employment insurance fund.

Here in the House, the government has restricted access to the employment insurance program. It started with Paul Martin's Liberal government and continued with the Conservatives. Despite the economic crisis, nothing is being done for workers. The government is investing huge sums of money in the military and is spending billions to support Alberta's oil industry, which is polluting our whole planet.

The Conservative government really does not care about workers, nor does it support them. During election campaigns, the Conservatives try to manipulate public opinion by saying that they want to help workers and people struggling with various issues. But here in the House, I have no doubt that the Conservatives will vote against this bill even though I hope they will not. From what the Conservative member said, I gather that they will be voting against this bill. That is shameful and senseless.

This is a simple bill. It states that people who have worked the required number of hours during a 52-week qualifying period and who have been involved in a lockout are entitled to employment insurance even after 52 weeks or following a prolonged strike.

In closing, I urge all members of the House to really give this some thought and vote with their heart and their conscience when the time comes to vote on Bill C-395 at second reading. When voting, we should keep in mind workers who have taken a stand to protect their rights and who, because they do not have access to employment insurance, cannot support their families when their employers lock them out following a prolonged dispute.

I also urge all members of the House to think about all of the bills introduced by the Bloc Québécois, such as eliminating the waiting period and improving the employment insurance system. They should think about voters who have so often been denied access to benefits when they lose their jobs or are involved in a prolonged labour dispute.

Private Members' Bills
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

October 7th, 2009 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on June 2, 2009, you made a statement with respect to the management of private members' business and indicated that three bills appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown and invited the comments of members.

One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute). Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit Bill C-395 contains provisions that would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act, thereby requiring new spending and a royal recommendation.

Currently, the Employment Insurance Act allows for a qualifying period up to 104 weeks in situations where individuals are unable to work, including sickness, incarceration and quarantine. Bill C-395 would add another provision such that individuals could extend their qualifying period for an undefined period of time in the event of a work stoppage as the result of a labour dispute.

By changing the way in which the qualifying period is calculated, in the case of a work stoppage attributable to a labour dispute, Bill C-395 would change the conditions that must be met in order to receive employment insurance benefits, and that would require an increase in government spending on employment insurance.

Precedents demonstrate that changes to the conditions for eligibility of employment insurance benefits require a royal recommendation.

On March 23, 2007, the Speaker ruled, in the case of Bill C-265 respecting changes to the employment insurance qualifying period, that:

...the changes to the employment insurance program envisioned by this bill include...removing the distinctions made to the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate. [This] would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures from the consolidated revenue fund in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

On January 29, 2009, the Speaker of the other place ruled, in the case of Bill S-207 respecting changes to the qualifying period, that:

...Bill [S-207] would relax the conditions that must be met in order to receive employment insurance benefits...by allowing [certain individuals] to extend their qualifying period.... The proposal in Bill S-207 to extend access to a benefit enlarges the scheme of entitlements in the Employment Insurance Act, and, consequently, it requires a Royal Recommendation.

These precedents apply to Bill C-395. The bill would increase government spending and, therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit, must be accompanied by a royal recommendation.