An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Alexandre Boulerice  NDP

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

Status

Defeated, as of May 9, 2012
(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 Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant or nursing employee to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.

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

  • May 9, 2012 Failed 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.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House today to talk about this issue of great importance. I want to congratulate my hon. colleague, who is new to the House, for bringing this forward. It is always nice to see members bring their private members' bills into this particular place to argue and debate. One of the greatest acts we can do as parliamentarians is to bring our own legislation into the House. I congratulate him for doing that.

By way of background, Bill C-307 is an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, which would allow pregnant or nursing employees in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal and working for a federally regulated business to opt out of the Employment Insurance Act and receive benefits under the provincial regime. At the present time, this would only create equity between pregnant and nursing employees in Quebec working for federally regulated businesses or not. Quebec would be the only province benefiting from the provisions of the bill since other provinces rely on the Employment Insurance Act to obtain compensation.

However, the bill contains a provision in the eventuality that other provinces would want to mirror Quebec's regime and create a compensation scheme in the case of preventive withdrawals. Indeed, pursuant to subsection 132.1(5) of the bill, the Minister of Labour can enter into an agreement with the government of a province or its agent to determine the administrative and financial implications of certain measures. A province could probably refuse to enter into such an agreement because of the costs related to implement such a regime and since the provinces outside of Quebec have been relying for numerous years on the Employment Insurance Act for compensation for pregnant and nursing women in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal from work.

The bill entirely mirrors the provisions of Bill C-380, which was an act to amend the Canada Labour Code for pregnant or nursing employees, that was tabled in 2005, in the first session of the 38th Parliament, by a member of the Bloc Québécois, Robert Vincent. At the time, the NDP and Conservatives voted in favour of the bill and, of course, the Liberals voted against it.

Taking a look at the Canada Labour Code, under subsection 132 of the code, a pregnant or nursing employee who is subject to the code may apply to be reassigned to another position if her work constitutes a danger to herself or her child. If the worker cannot be reassigned by the employer to another job, the employee can obtain leave without pay under the code. Compensation will then be granted under the Employment Insurance Act or the collective agreement.

In Quebec, the program for maternity without risk of La Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail offers benefits to women who must leave their jobs for that particular reason. However, employees working for federally regulated employers in Quebec are not eligible for this program. It is noted that no other Canadian province offers compensation as Quebec through its health and safety at work measures. Consequently, in provinces outside of Quebec and in the circumstances of a preventive withdrawal, the employee will have to refer to her current collective agreement to receive compensation, the Employment Insurance Act or the employer's private insurance plan.

Therefore, the rationale behind this is one that is meant to be in good measure. I understand that, as anybody in the House would certainly agree, the bill as presented certainly does seem reasonable. The same benefits that are available provincially, in this case mainly referring to Quebec, would be applied to women who work in the federal area under the federal Canada Labour Code if those benefits are better. The problem is that no other province has the kind of benefits available to pregnant women that are available to workers in Quebec. If the bill were to be adopted, only women in Quebec who work under the federal labour code would benefit from this particular legislation, as well intentioned as it may be.

The bill, therefore, creates two categories of workers: workers in Quebec and workers in other provinces. It creates a precedent, where an employee subject to the Canada Labour Code could opt out for the provincial program if she deemed it more generous, essentially cherry-picking the jurisdiction and laws that would apply in her case. The bill would allow employees to choose their effective jurisdiction, which is no way to run a federal country or administer a federal code.

Therefore, as well intentioned as it may be, because of the problematic nature of that in one province and not the others, we vote against the bill in its present form.

In effect, through the Canada Labour Code, the bill forces the federal government to live by present and future labour laws of the provincial governments without having any say in exactly what one has to live up to, even though the federal government has jurisdiction in its own area. In this case, the provinces would be dictating what is happening to the Canada Labour Code with respect to federal undertakings. This would be costly for the federal government, which would compensate the provinces under the terms of an agreement provided under proposed section 132.15 of the bill, which would create two payment systems under the provincial legislation and the Employment Insurance Act.

Again, I would like to remind members that when we bring private members' bills to the House and the principle is to help affected people, we believe that this should be looked at. However, sometimes we take the principle of a particular bill and vote accordingly. However, if we look at the bill and the flaws within it, sometimes they become too overbearing and we therefore vote whichever way we must. In this case, the flaws contained within it would certainly be overbearing to the system.

The bill would create a regional inequality in the Canada Labour Code that does not currently exist, which is what we put forward in 2005 when the bill first came into the House under Bill C-380 under the Bloc Québécois. It would create a separate system for employees under federal jurisdiction. The practical effect of Bill C-380 would create a separate system for employees, those working in Quebec, and those under federal jurisdiction who are working in other regions or other provinces and territories across the country. We certainly do feel that these arguments stand, as well intentioned as the bill may be.

If the proponent of the bill was concerned with pregnant and nursing mothers, the bill would have been drafted with those concerns in mind. As much as we compliment the member on the particular intentions within the bill, we certainly have to look at it on a national basis. In 2005 these were the arguments that we brought forward. These are the arguments that we adhere to in this situation. Therefore, we vote against it as a party.

As I mentioned earlier, under section 132.15 of the code, a pregnant or nursing employee who is subject to the code may apply to be reassigned to another position if her work constitutes a danger to herself or the child. If the worker cannot be reassigned by the employer to another job, the employee can obtain leave without pay under the code. Compensation will then be granted under the Unemployment Insurance Act or the collective agreement itself.

In Quebec, the program for a maternity without risk of the CSST offers benefits to women who must leave their jobs for that reason. It is also called preventive withdrawal. However, employees working for federally regulated employers in Quebec are not eligible for this program. We agree with the principles that I outlined before. It is noted that no other Canadian province offers compensation as Quebec through its health and safety at work measures. Therein lies the reason why the party votes against it.

Again, I congratulate the hon. member for bringing this into the House as it is certainly a pertinent issue. Hopefully, we can rectify these problems and get back to looking after the people who need it the most.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to support Bill C-307 sponsored by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Bill C-307 would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant or nursing employee to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.

More specifically, this bill would affect pregnant or nursing employees who work in a job that comes under the Canada Labour Code. It would allow these women to benefit from applicable provincial laws, making it possible for them to request preventive withdrawal, a transfer to another position, or financial compensation under provincial legislation. The last subclause of this bill makes a very important point: an employee who decides to exercise the rights conferred by this bill will not be subject to sanctions or reprisals of any kind. This subclause, which highlights the importance of the absence of prejudice, is an important addition, and I congratulate my colleague for thinking of it.

My colleagues on the other side of the House made a number of arguments for not supporting this bill. I listened carefully to the arguments. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour is concerned about the cost of these measures.

After giving the issue a great deal of consideration, I believe that the health of women, fetuses and infants is well worth the $11 million that this bill will cost. The sum of $11 million seems to me to be very little when you think of all that can be accomplished with this increased protection for Canadian workers. What my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie is proposing is to protect the health and safety of mothers and future mothers.

In fact, this bill tackles a major problem in our laws. Currently, a pregnant woman or a nursing mother must incur the costs of leave without pay in order to ensure her own safety and her child’s. The employment insurance program is not much help, either. Each week of leave taken before the birth of the child is a week that is not taken afterward.

This means that a woman must choose between spending less time with her baby while she is on maternity leave and ensuring her safety and her baby’s safety while she is pregnant. In my opinion, this does not make sense. We ought to support pregnant or nursing Canadians. Why should a woman bear the economic burden of her own safety at work? It is not fair.

In Quebec, there are provisions that entitle women to preventive withdrawal from the workplace and allow them to receive 90% of their salary. Since 1981, pregnant women are protected if their job entails dangerous tasks, such as carrying a weight of more than seven kilograms, interacting with people who might be potentially dangerous for her or her child, working in an environment that is too noisy or standing for more than seven hours.

These provisions can make all the difference between a happy pregnancy and a stressful pregnancy. In my riding, there was a report that one couple expecting a baby were surprised to learn that the pregnant woman was not entitled to preventive withdrawal. As a trucker, a job that is covered by the Canada Labour Code and therefore under federal jurisdiction, the woman was not entitled to the preventive withdrawal benefits which her counterparts covered by the CSST enjoy. This means that, despite the dangerous conditions, the long hours of work and the continuing vibrations, she is not entitled to preventive withdrawal. She must take unpaid leave and pay for it herself, or find a safer job, perhaps losing her seniority.

This situation is totally unacceptable. For this couple, a provision like the one proposed in my colleague’s bill would mean peace of mind for the future mother about her financial situation, her baby’s safety and her own well-being.

Another job that is potentially affected by this bill is that of flight attendant. I cannot imagine how a pregnant flight attendant must feel when she finds out that she must take leave without pay to ensure her own safety and that of her child.

Imagine being pregnant. As your pregnancy progresses, you realize that a job that involves standing for seven hours in a plane shaken by turbulence could have a negative impact on your health and that of your fetus. So you have to make a decision, and it is not an easy one: continue working, putting your pregnancy at risk, or make the financial sacrifice and take leave without pay to protect your health. That is totally unfair. Women should not be punished because they have chosen one career over another.

This bill is exactly what CUPE has been fighting for. Nathalie Stringer, a flight attendant and president of the Air Transat component of CUPE, said:

CUPE has long been demanding this equal treatment for Quebec female workers under federal jurisdiction. In the airline sector, for example, a number of flight attendants have had to make the difficult choice between their financial situation and health risks. Since it is the health of pregnant women and unborn children that is at stake, we are counting on all MPs in the House of Commons to support this excellent initiative and leave partisanship out of it.

This is about the safety of women, fetuses and babies. This is about women's equality and a social safety net that supports a just, fair and healthy society.

If the government really wants to help Canadian families, it has to walk the walk. It has to stop penalizing pregnant women. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, make a real difference in the lives of millions of families, and make our society more just.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-307, which amends the Canada Labour Code to allow female workers to avail themselves of the provisions of provincial legislation regarding preventive withdrawal when those provisions are more beneficial.

I am very pleased to support the bill introduced by my NDP colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This important bill promotes the full integration of women in the labour market as well as access to a healthy and safe working environment, which I believe is a fundamental right.

We also know that integrating women into the labour market is good for the economy. Consider access to child care, for instance. It is in everyone's best interest to ensure that women have access to a safe working environment that allows them to have children and to work.

At present, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program to protect pregnant and nursing women. Under the Quebec program, which was created in 1981, women receive 90% of their salaries if their working conditions are considered dangerous for them or their children, without having to give up their employment insurance benefits.

In 2008, 32,500 Quebec women benefited from the CSST program Pour une maternité sans danger, at a total cost of $208 million.

The problem is that while these women can use preventive withdrawal for medical reasons, thousands of Quebec women with jobs governed by the Canada Labour Code cannot take unpaid leave or go on employment insurance.

Given that only 33% of women who contribute to employment insurance are eligible for benefits, often because they have not accumulated enough insurable hours of employment to qualify, most Quebec and Canadian women subject to the Canada Labour Code must use preventive withdrawal at their own expense.

The current program requires pregnant women subject to the Canada Labour Code to mortgage their weeks of maternity and parental leave because weeks used before the birth are deducted from their total weeks of benefits. Every week of benefits shortens their maternity leave by one week. Thus, preventive withdrawal is a form of unpaid leave.

In addition, the few women who are entitled to employment insurance benefits receive only 55% of their gross salary. By comparison, Quebec's CSST pays future mothers 90% of their net salary. That is a huge difference.

This bill is important because in Quebec, 250,000 people work under the Canada Labour Code.

In fact, female workers in Quebec who work in broadcasting and telecommunications, banking, postal services, airports and air transportation, marine transportation and navigation, and in other sectors, do not have access to a preventive withdrawal program. We can also mention other sectors where women do not have access to that type of program, for example, in penitentiaries, marine transportation and longshoring, in band council governance activities, in certain crown corporations, and in countless other sectors.

I could talk about hundreds of cases, but I would like to give a more concrete example, that of a woman who works in Quebec, whose name is Isabelle Landry. She is from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and earns her living in the trucking industry, which is a non-traditional job. In 2009, at age 26, she became pregnant. As hon. members can imagine, it is not possible to continue trucking for the entire duration of the pregnancy.

She thought she, like some other female workers in the goods transportation sector,could benefit from a preventive withdrawal through the CSST when her doctor asked her to stop working for the health and well-being of her baby. However, she learned that she was not eligible for the program because she was driving a truck between Quebec and California, which meant she was subject to the Canada Labour Code.

As strange as it might seem, if she drove a milk truck on Quebec roads, she would have been entitled to preventive withdrawal at 90% of her salary.

Isabelle's situation is deeply unfair. Pregnant women working in federally regulated jobs who have to stop working for health reasons must do so at their own expense, while workers in jobs under Quebec's jurisdiction can count on financial support from the CSST.

This disconnect creates two classes of workers in Quebec: those who get the help they need and those who are left to their own devices.

I would like the Liberal and Conservative members who oppose this bill to tell us how they can tolerate a system that is so unfair to women.

I listened to the debates in the House with great interest, and I heard many criticisms. Some members said that the proposal was not feasible, that it could not be done, that it was not possible.

However, in the past, the CSST has frequently been allowed to handle workplace accident claims for federally regulated employees.

All it would take is a simple agreement for pregnant women subject to the Canada Labour Code to be entitled to true preventive withdrawal.

In Quebec, probably because women realize how lucky some female workers are to have access to such a progressive preventive withdrawal program, support for this bill is unequivocal.

According to Nathalie Stringer, a flight attendant and president of the Air Transat component of CUPE:

CUPE has long been demanding this equal treatment for Quebec female workers under federal jurisdiction. In the airline sector, for example, a number of flight attendants have had to make the difficult choice between their financial situation and health risks. Since it is the health of pregnant women and unborn children that is at stake, we are counting on all MPs in the House of Commons to support this excellent initiative and leave partisanship out of it...

Furthermore, Alexa Conradi, president of the Fédération des femmes de Québec, supports my colleague's bill and reminds us that:

Preventive withdrawal, as it exists in Quebec, is a fundamental benefit that all women need. It is a cornerstone of the policies on workplace heath and safety and work-family balance, and it is high time that the federal government followed in Quebec's footsteps on this fundamental status of women issue...

The Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail has also applauded the bill introduced by the NDP member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, stating that if this bill is passed, the working conditions of 10% of female workers will improve.

...this bill will make it possible to finally properly compensate, at 90% of their salary, women working as flight attendants, postal workers, truck drivers, armoured car service workers and dock workers who currently do not have the right to a proper preventive withdrawal measure...

It is also important to remember that Quebec's National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion in June 2010:

That the National Assembly ask the federal Government that all Québec women working under federal jurisdiction have the right to preventative withdrawal as provided in the Act respecting occupational health and safety.

Access to a healthy and safe workplace is a fundamental right for women in the labour market. If it is impossible to offer a pregnant or nursing woman suitable working conditions by modifying her duties, adjusting her workstation or temporarily assigning her to another position, then that woman should be entitled to paid leave. In our opinion, this is a fundamental right.

As we speak, many pregnant women who work for employers that are subject to the Canada Labour Code are continuing to work during their pregnancy in potentially hazardous working conditions because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

That is tragic. It is unacceptable. They are putting their pregnancy, their health and the health of their unborn child at risk. This practice must stop.

I hope that we can correct this injustice to the women of Quebec and that other provincial governments will be inspired by these progressive measures to promote women's equality and their integration into the labour market.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to support Bill C-307, which will allow pregnant and nursing women who work under the Canada Labour Code to avail themselves of provincial legislation providing for preventive withdrawal. I would like to thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for this excellent bill. All legislation that improves the balance between work and home life will have a favourable impact on the status of women in Canada.

In 2006, Quebec assumed jurisdiction over the parental leave program. The province has given mothers more money, more flexibility and easier access to preventive withdrawal. The other parent also receives five weeks of parental leave, which is non-transferable. Less than two years later, the poverty rate among women in Quebec has declined by 15 points. This is not a coincidence. The most effective way to reduce inequality between the sexes is to make both motherhood and economic security possible, and put the emphasis on parental leave. This is our role as parliamentarians, and it is our duty, not only for women and mothers but also for men and fathers, and for children’s well-being and the economic future of Canada.

This bill is of crucial importance for two reasons. First, it ensures employment equity for women who work in an environment that may be dangerous to their pregnancy. Second, it promotes the idea that women must not be threatened by poverty if they decide to have children.

Bill C-307 protects women who work in jobs that are completely safe in ordinary circumstances, but may be dangerous to a pregnant or nursing woman. Bill C-307 gives women in those occupations the fundamental right to have children if they want to. Why would a woman truck driver or postal worker or flight attendant, or a woman firefighter or plant worker, have to choose between her and her child’s health and poverty or the option of not having a child? The answer to the question is obvious: she should not have to make that choice. No one should have to do that.

Reproductive justice is more than simply having access to safe, legal abortion. It is also a woman's right to decide whether or not to have a child. I therefore oppose any element that would systematically prevent women from exercising that choice, including poverty, discrimination and, in this case, barriers that women face in the workplace.

It makes no sense that this government recognizes that certain working conditions are dangerous to pregnant or nursing women, yet it refuses to recognize their need to receive their salaries when they cannot work. Women in these situations are forced to go on leave without pay. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Quebec is the only province that has a preventive withdrawal program to protect pregnant and nursing women. It allows these women to receive 95% of their salaries if working conditions are considered dangerous for them or their children.

However, women who work under the Canada Labour Code do not have the same luck. I therefore call on this House to support the bill for the well-being of all these women.

Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have left?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:50 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thought I had a total of five minutes. In that case, I can present many more arguments.

I will take this opportunity to say that several aspects of the parental leave program do not make sense. This House should dispense with partisanship and improve the program.

First of all, parental leave benefits are inadequate with respect to income. Almost all other industrialized countries pay women much more than 55% of their income. In Europe, depending on the country, benefits range from 70% to 90%, and some countries even pay 100%. It is not surprising that the gender gap is significantly smaller. Common sense tells us that a woman with a young child needs more income to meet her needs and those of her child, not less.

The current parental leave system in Canada sends a message to women. It says that if they have a child, they must be supported by someone richer, and that if their family is having financial difficulties, she should not have children.

This message reinforces the model of a traditional family, which does not work for everyone and which is not always desired. The number of single parent families has been on the rise since the 1970s, and 80% of these parents are women. The current system discriminates against non-traditional family units and the bill introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will ensure that Canadians living in these situations get better support.

The other inconsistency with the current program is that it includes parental leave of up to one year. However, most child care centres only accept children over the age of 18 months. Moreover, child care services are prohibitively expensive and difficult to access in most of Canada.

What is a woman without an income to do for six months, assuming that her employer is generous enough to keep her job open? Does she have to be wealthy enough to employ a nanny, or live for six months without an income? That is why I said that it is absolutely crucial that we fix the parental leave system in this country.

This bill will ensure that women working under the Canada Labour Code, who are pregnant or nursing, and who are in unsafe working environments, will have access to provincial programs. This is important because women and men are different—primarily due to the fact that women are mothers.

Consider the statistics: 60% of poor Canadians are women and 52% of single mothers with young children live below the poverty line. Statistically, women with children earn half what men do. Not only are these statistics regrettable, they have remained stagnant for a long time.

That is why we need a bill like the one introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. Bill C-307, along with other parental leave measures, will help to close the gap between the sexes in Canada. The proof is in the pudding: consider Quebec and Europe where such parental leave programs exist.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to take a few seconds to thank my NDP colleagues for their eloquent speeches in support of the bill that I had the honour to introduce in the House. I use the term “eloquent” because these members were all young women, and I do not think that this was a coincidence. I would therefore like to thank the hon. members for Berthier—Maskinongé, Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for their excellent speeches.

I would like to continue—my voice is scratchy today—by saying that, basically, this bill seeks to protect pregnant or nursing women and their children. It seeks to put an end to an injustice, an inconsistency that exists simply because these women are working in jobs under federal jurisdiction.

When a women accepts a job, she does not necessarily think about this, but then she gets a nasty surprise when she realizes that the provision of the provincial legislation does not apply to her and that she thus does not have the same rights. This is therefore a matter of justice, rights, equality and consistency in our society. It will allow women in every province of the Canadian Confederation to avail themselves of the best provincial provisions available.

Quebec is at the forefront, but I urge all of the other provinces to step up because the safe maternity program works. It helps women. It helps workers. It saves lives. It prevents premature births. It is good for fetuses and future babies. It protects our children. This measure is necessary and should be completely normal in 2012 because we respect pregnant and nursing women. We respect their safety and health and that of their babies.

This issue will reveal how serious the parties are about supporting families. All of the political parties in the House say that they support women and families. This is an opportunity to really help them. Those who support family values will support Bill C-307. Those who want to help pregnant women will support Bill C-307. If the Conservatives and the Liberals are really serious, they will vote for this bill to protect women and children.

I urge all my colleagues in the House from all parties to support this bill because we can take action, make a difference and truly help people. This is not a far-fetched idea. It takes a doctor's note. There are criteria for determining whether the health of the woman or her baby is in jeopardy. The woman just has to go the doctor and get a note. Then she negotiates with her employer to see whether the employer can find her another job, another position in the company where she could continue to work without jeopardizing her health.

This is entirely reasonable and consistent with occupational health and safety. Practical measures can be taken in the field. We have to move forward. This is not unreasonable.

If a woman's job puts her health and safety at risk, why should she have to take leave without pay? That is what currently happens under the Canada Labour Code. The financial burden rests on the shoulders of the female employee and not on society as a whole. That is the problem and that is what this bill seeks to change.

To us, it is impossible to ask female workers to take on that burden. There are concrete examples. I was happy that members talked about trucking, young women who drive ten-wheelers, big trucks. It is unusual. It is not traditional, but these women are out there and they are not getting the support they need. They are basically not entitled to anything. It is the same for flight attendants. Members spoke a little bit about CUPE flight attendants, about Ms. Stringer, whom I worked with before. If you are a flight attendant, you do not become a mechanic or a pilot overnight. Pregnant women cannot be expected to be on their feet for hours in an airplane with a big belly.

If the members in this House want change and if they want to help the women and families of this country in tangible ways, they will unanimously support Bill C-307.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

moved that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to committee.

—Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise today in this House to speak to a bill that is so important to many women throughout Canada. It is important to women's groups and also to the union movement, the people who represent working women and are concerned with health and safety issues.

The purpose of this bill is to allow pregnant or nursing women who work in businesses that are under federal jurisdiction to avail themselves of existing provincial occupational health and safety legislation governing preventive withdrawal. This is a very reasonable and necessary bill.

In the last election campaign, the NDP had the slogan “Travaillons ensemble”, meaning working together. We had a positive campaign, a campaign about ideas and people's real problems. In this regard, we said, and we still say, that parliamentarians have to work in the interests of the public, and so they have to work together. We also said that we had to help families. We said that in the NDP, but other parties were saying the same kind of thing. We said we had to listen to the needs of families. That is why I am proud today to speak to this bill again.

In Quebec, we often boast about how we are more progressive, but that is not always true and has not always been the case. Women won the right to vote only in 1940. And I would just note in passing that aboriginal people won the right to vote federally in 1960, and that is truly unbelievable. Since then, women have fought to have all their rights fully recognized. After many battles, they have achieved concrete recognition of their equality. In Quebec, it was not until 1979 that a maternity leave program for working women was implemented. In 2000, there was the Women's March, to send a loud and clear signal that the struggle for fairness and equality for women continued. That struggle still has to continue.

Perhaps members are unaware, but at present, when some working women in this country are pregnant and have to leave their workplace for their own safety or the safety of their fetus, their baby to be, they receive no compensation. They have to do it on their own dime, as they say. That is inconceivable. One might even say it is somewhat shocking.

We call ourselves an egalitarian society, we say that we recognize that women play an important role in the labour market, but at the same time, we penalize them when they are pregnant. We tell them that it is all very well for them to protect their health and the health of their fetus, but they will have to pick up the bill. Forgive me, but in our view, that seems a bit cheap.

In Canada, we have collectively provided ourselves with a social safety net of which we are rightly proud. It is in fragile shape today, but for many long years it has served our society, Canadian men and women, men and women in Quebec, well. It is a social safety net we must work to preserve today. In fact, it is this social safety net that protected us against the recent global economic crisis, because, as the IMF reminded us, a better distribution of wealth and lower levels of inequality allow for longer and more stable periods of economic growth.

So, we created a safety net for workers, because we recognized that, in certain situations, employees and wage earners in our country need to be protected. We recognize that, and occupational health and safety laws exist because dangerous situations are sometimes a reality. We also have an employment insurance program because sometimes—and these days it is more frequent than that, with 91,000 in two months—people lose their job.

However, when it comes to pregnant women, the government seems to be a little more stingy. Pregnant or nursing women have to do tasks or put up with working conditions that can be dangerous. The NDP does not accept that situation, and I am convinced that the majority of members in this House do not accept it either.

I am going to summarize the relevant Canada Labour Code provisions for those who are not familiar with them.

First, there are two levels of labour codes in Canada. We have the provincial codes and then the Canada Labour Code. The latter covers workers in several sectors, including the financial, air transportation, aerospace, telecommunications and transportation sectors.

In Quebec, 4.45% of women are covered by the Canada Labour Code, which means close to 75,000 women.

Under the bill that I am humbly submitting today, these 75,000 women would be potentially better protected if they experienced the joy of expecting a child.

In Quebec, we are very proud of the program that was put in place in 1981. It allows pregnant women who provide a medical certificate confirming that their work poses risks and dangers for their unborn child or for themselves to be reassigned to tasks that do not present these dangers.

Under this program, women receive 90% of their salary. The program recognizes that it is not right and that it is unfair to put on the victims the burden of occupational health and safety problems.

Unfortunately, the Canada Labour Code currently does not do that. With regard to preventive withdrawal, section 132 of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with pregnant or nursing employees, provides that when dangerous conditions exist, the employer may try to find an alternative. I insist on the term “may”. The employer is under no obligation to do so. If no alternative is found, these women must take a leave without pay. That is where the big difference lies. In these situations, the financial and economic burden rests on the shoulders of pregnant and nursing employees whose working conditions endanger their health, or that of their unborn child.

The question is, is this just? I wonder if it is an egalitarian policy and social vision. I wonder if it is consistent with our values, with the Quebec and Canadian values of equality between men and women, equality between workers, and of protection for people with health or safety problems.

Is forcing pregnant employees to work in dangerous conditions for both themselves and their fetuses the right way to treat them? The members of the NDP and I, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, do not believe so. I do not think that these women should be penalized. We in the NDP believe that the health of pregnant workers is important. I would go so far as to say that it is a priority.

If we want to encourage people to have children, and if we are serious about this, women must be provided with the best living and working conditions possible. They must have appropriate and safe conditions in which to work at all times.

I imagine that my colleagues from the Liberal and Conservative parties, and the other members who sit in this House share this opinion. At least, I hope so.

I am the father of a blended family with four beautiful children. I am lucky. I enjoyed good working conditions before having the honour of being elected to represent the constituents of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie in this House. My wife also enjoyed good working conditions. We both had a collective agreement that enabled us to take extended parental leave.

Today's topic is not parental leave. It is even more elementary than that. The subject is the health of thousands of workers and their right to be protected without paying for it. It is about pregnant women working in a standing position for over seven hours. It is about pregnant women lifting loads of over seven kilograms. It is about working environments that are too noisy. It is about ergonomics that put these women's pregnancy or the health of their fetus at risk. It is about being exposed to hazardous products. I could continue, as the list is long.

A study conducted in 2004 by Health Canada as part of the National Health Research and Development Program demonstrated the effectiveness of the provincial program in Quebec. The study showed that if exposure to ergonomic problems is eliminated early enough in pregnancy, the rate of premature delivery is the same as for women with no exposure. These and other such hazards have been eliminated. This is evidence that prevention works. For prevention to be successful, there should be no financial penalty. That is the current problem with the Canada Labour Code. It is the problem that this private members' bill seeks to address.

In the NDP, we believe that these women should not be penalized when their working conditions put their health or that of their babies at risk.

If we really want to help Canadian families, we must put our money where our mouth is. We must take concrete action. My bill does that and it is a good thing for Canadian and Quebec families. Its objective is to stop penalizing pregnant employees. It is a simple measure that will improve living conditions for these families and, therefore, for thousands of people.

The bill humbly does that. All we are saying is that pregnant women who work in a job that comes under the Canada Labour Code can avail themselves of the existing provincial occupational health and safety legislation if, of course, the latter is better.

That is not much to ask under the circumstances. My bill does that is six small subsections.

Subsection (1) provides that an employee may avail herself of “the legislation of the province where she works that relates to the applicable measures, including preventive withdrawal, transfer to another position and financial compensation to which she would be entitled under that legislation”. Subsection (2) defines the terms of the application, while subsection (3) refers to its processing. It provides that: “The agency referred to in subsection (2) shall process the application according to the legislation of the province applicable to pregnant or nursing employees in that province.”

Subsection (4) points out that employees may avail themselves of the remedies provided for in the provincial legislation. Subsection (5) gives to the federal government a mandate to enter into an administrative agreement with the provinces concerned. Incidentally, similar agreements already exist regarding health and safety. Employees who come under the Canada Labour Code are protected by the CSST in Quebec for workplace accidents, but not always for preventive withdrawal.

Finally, subsection (6) of my bill provides that the exercise by an employee of this right is without prejudice. The fact that an employee exercises a right must not result in retribution or penalties of any kind. This is a reasonable, modern, appropriate and necessary legislation. I hope there is unanimity for once in this House regarding the private members' bill that I am introducing today for second reading.

This is why I am asking all hon. members to support it, regardless of their political colours. I am asking that we recognize the contribution of women in the workplace, and that we recognize that they should never be penalized because they are pregnant or because they are nursing their child. I am asking for the support of my fellow parliamentarians to pass this bill, which will correct a major deficiency in the existing legislation.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity today to comment on Bill C-307 presented by my colleague, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

This bill proposes adding another section to part II of the Canada Labour Code. This would bring the federal code in line with provincial legislation regarding the health and safety of pregnant or nursing employees.

In Quebec there is a program called “Pour une maternité sans danger”, the safe maternity program, which many pregnant workers use. A pregnant nurse, for example, whose job poses a risk to her health or that of her baby can be reassigned to another task or be allowed to take preventative withdrawal leave on the advice of her physician. If she must take leave, this pregnant nurse will receive an income or replacement benefit equivalent to 90% of her net insurable income.

It is clear that even if this is not spelled out explicitly, the intent of Bill C-307 is to give employees working in Quebec, but under federal jurisdiction, the possibility of getting the same access to the safe maternity program as employees under provincial jurisdiction.

I must admit that the issue raised by the bill is important to me, both as a woman and as a pediatric surgeon who spends most of the time taking care of children. I would be the first to say that pregnant and nursing women have the right to work in a safe environment. This is something that every Canadian would agree with.

Wherever we sit in the House, I am sure that we all want to protect those who give life, the infants they carry, and those who have been brought into the world. In fact, the Canada Labour Code formally recognizes this right. It includes several provisions, including maternity related reassignment or leave. These provisions give considerable protection to pregnant and nursing employees. I am not going to go into the details of these provisions, but generally speaking this is what they allow.

If there is a risk to the health of the employee, her fetus or her child, the employee can get a modification of her duties to be reassigned to another job without any loss of salary or benefits. If these measures are impractical, she can go on leave for as long as the danger persists.

Other provisions allow an employee to take leave during the period from the beginning of the pregnancy up to 24 weeks after childbirth if she is unable to work because of her pregnancy or nursing. This is in addition to regular maternity, parental or sick leave provisions under the code.

It is not my place to give an opinion on Quebec's safe maternity program, which, in principle, is very commendable. But one thing is sure: the program is very expensive.

To note, in a Canadian Press article that appeared at the beginning of November, it was reported that the cost of financing the program is 19 times higher than it was when it was first created. It now costs over $200 million per year, all of it financed by employees through a payroll tax. In Quebec, the same contribution rate, which is 19¢ on every $100 of employees' insurable earnings, is applied to all employees targeted by Quebec's preventative withdrawal program. This is regardless of the amount of benefits their employees receive.

If we assume that the same contribution rate would be applied to their current total salary envelope, employees under federal jurisdiction operating in Quebec, including the federal government, would be obliged to pay almost $20 million a year in contributions. However, given the relatively lower health and safety risks presented by most jobs under federal jurisdiction, it can be estimated the amount of benefits provided to employees would be approximately $5.4 million. In such a scenario, federally regulated employers would on average pay almost four times more into the program than their employees would take out. If only from a financial perspective, this would make no sense.

The financial aspect is one we cannot ignore, especially in these difficult economic times. That is perhaps why a report earlier this year, commissioned by Quebec's workers compensation board, recommended that the admissibility criteria for its program be tightened and that more effort was needed to encourage employers to accommodate pregnant and nursing employees. That is what our priority should be, to focus on allowing women to maintain their attachment to the labour force by ensuring that they work in a safe environment.

We have to consider the potential unintended consequences of the bill on workers that it is meant to help. Increasing business payroll taxes would hinder job growth and could lead some employers to reduce or eliminate benefits altogether for their employees. If Bill C-307 brought significant new benefits and protections for employees, this might also be a price worth considering, but it does not.

From a legislative point of view, Bill C-307 would also be difficult to implement. If Bill C-307 were adopted, many employers under federal jurisdiction would then be subject to most provincial and federal provisions on preventative withdrawal. This could create confusion in regard to the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees. Employees could try to take advantage of either their federal or provincial rights or remedies, choosing whichever system seemed to be the most advantageous under the circumstances. This would lead to problems in application of labour laws.

In addition, Bill C-307 would create disparities in the treatment of employees working in different provinces for the same employer. Given certain rights and benefits only in federal jurisdictions, employees located in one province and having such inequity enshrined in law would be unfair for employees working in other regions of the country. This sort of situation could lead to a complicated patchwork of disparities and legal obligations for employers under federal jurisdiction. Those operating in several provinces, including small companies which cannot afford professional legal or HR assistance, would face significant administrative difficulties.

Bill C-307 would also have the effect of blurring the lines of demarcation between jurisdictions of labour matters. The provinces could adopt laws that would apply to workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Such a development could have broad legal and policy ramifications.

It is clear that pregnant and nursing women have the right to work in an environment that is safe and healthy. If there is a risk to their health, that right is protected under the Canada Labour Code.

I would also point out that the vast majority of employees under federal jurisdiction are entitled to benefits under a disability insurance or sick leave program provided by their employer. Employees are also entitled to employment insurance benefits if they meet the eligibility criteria.

When we propose to make changes or additions to the Canada Labour Code, as is proposed in Bill C-307, we must ensure that we are carefully considering their implications, and weigh the pros and cons. That is what we have done as a responsible government.

After spending a great deal of time examining this bill and for all the reasons I just mentioned, we have decided to oppose Bill C-307 and we ask all members to do the same.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, a number of different points have been raised in debate and I think all members in the House share the opinion, the will and the want to ensure that pregnant and nursing women are well cared for and supported, as they should be.

From a Liberal perspective, our track record shows we have not just talked about this, but we have taken steps such as maternity leave through the employment insurance program and various undertakings over a number of years.

Bill C-307 is similar to a private member's bill put forward in the past by a member of the Bloc. I remember being in the House when it was debated. I do not see any changes from this legislation to the points that were raised the past legislation.

The concern then and the concern now is the impact this will have on provinces and how they have to respond to the legislation. It is really a case of dictating programs to the various provincial jurisdictions. I do not know if that is what our role and responsibility is here, and it was mentioned in the comments of my colleague, the parliamentary secretary.

I went through a process fairly closely with a former colleague, Ken Dryden, when he was a member of this chamber. We did cross-Canada contacts and stakeholders meetings when he worked toward the formation of a national child care program. What we took from those meetings and from that whole experience was that each province did things completely different.

The province of Quebec has a child care model that stands apart from other provinces. It is very well refined, whereas the province of Newfoundland is still trying to come to terms with and develop more of a broad-based system.

However, one thing Ken understood from his experience was that none of the provinces were willing to accept a national program. They could only do what they could do. They could improve what they were doing. They could support some of the initiatives they had undertaken. They believed in early education and child care, but they had to live within their means, as all governments do.

What had to be done was a series of one-offs, where the federal government embarked on a particular deal with each of the provinces. Investments were made. Those deals were certainly supported financially and dollars were transferred. However, it was not up to the federal government to dictate what a child care and early learning program should look like. That was clearly provincial jurisdiction. Ken and I took away from the experience that this was clearly within the purview of the provincial governments, but there was a role for the federal government to play.

As has been stated by the parliamentary secretary, and it is a belief that I share, there are provisions within the Canada Labour Code right now that protect the safety and security of pregnant and nursing women. Although well-intended and as noble as it might be, the legislation has the potential to further add to an inequality, where those women who work in a federal sector would have access to a higher level and a greater amount of support than other women who did not work in that sector.

The potential to add to inequality is real and I have not seen any changes in the legislation. That concern was raised when the Bloc introduced the legislation. I have not seen that change through this. If we were to go forward and support the legislation, I think we would constitutionally impinge on the jurisdiction of the provincial governments. It is tough enough to move legislation forward and be progressive in areas of federal jurisdiction, but when we try to impart that on the provinces, they are not all that willing.

The additional risk is it would further complicate an already complicated area, where we see provincial labour laws and provincial codes apply as well as an overlap of federal labour laws and labour codes.

We dealt with legislation four years ago. Cape Breton had a subsea mine and federal labour codes applied to that specific operation, the Cape Breton Development Corporation. When the federal government got out of the mining business, the province wanted to assume and further develop the coalfields in Sydney. To try to streamline that, we had to pass legislation in the House that would enable the province to assume responsibility to have that mine operate under provincial labour codes and to be monitored by provincial labour standards. It was a rigorous process, but nonetheless we were able to get through it.

However, when we look at all 10 provinces and the varying degrees of support that are awarded by each of those provinces and when we look at where the Canada Labour Code currently extends into this issue, then it calls into question whether it is wise or prudent or if it is our responsibility to move forward with this type of legislation.

Again, our caucus has seen the legislation before. We did not think it was the cleanest of legislation. Although we support pregnant and nursing women, we do not think the legislation is one that makes a great deal of sense to support. It further draws a greater inequality between those who are in federal sectors and those who are not.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Madam Speaker, I am really very proud to rise in this House today to stand up for the rights of working women in Canada.

I want to lend my support to Bill C-307 because I think it is a good thing, it is something that is logical and necessary for the provinces of Canada. This is not just a law that will strengthen our federation; it is also a law that affects the rights of women in our country. I think there are many reasons why all parties in this House, as a government, are going to be able to work together in a non-partisan debate. I am convinced that as the government of Canada, we want to be sure that our federation stays strong and the injustices that women suffer are eliminated.

I believe in a policy of bringing people together, a policy that will be equal in all provinces. I hear my colleagues in the other parties talking to me about inequality. This bill is one that my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has introduced precisely so that we will be more equal everywhere in Canada. I wonder whether the others have really understood the essence of this bill.

The reason why I believe in this bill is that the history of Canada shows that the federal government takes the social legislation of the provinces into consideration.

What we are saying in Bill C-307 is that there is legislation in Quebec, good progressive legislation to protect working women's rights, and that all of Canada should be able to benefit from it. We believe that preventive withdrawal legislation should apply to all working women in all provinces. While everyone works together to improve the lives of people in their own province, it is up to us, in the federal government, to do that for our country. It is important that the federation not take away the social progress achieved by the provinces. That is an injustice, and it is our job as parliamentarians to put a stop to injustices.

The debate today relates to an injustice that is truly important to me. Women's rights are of crucial importance in this world, and particularly in Canada. It is inconceivable that in this country we should have legislation that discriminates against nearly 50% of our population. The purpose of Bill C-307 is to enable pregnant or nursing women who are subject to the Canada Labour Code to be able to avail themselves of provincial legislation governing preventive withdrawal when that legislation is more beneficial.

At present, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program. Since 1981, pregnant women have been able to receive 90% of their wages before their delivery if their job is considered to be too dangerous for them or their child. This means lifting loads of more than 7 kg, interacting with people who may potentially be dangerous to the woman or the child, being exposed to noise levels that are dangerous to the woman or working in a standing position for over seven hours.

Women who live in the province but work for federal institutions—that is, who are subject to the Canada Labour Code—do not have access to this kind of program at present. They are subject to the Canada Labour Code, which ignores the rights of pregnant or nursing women. Women may take unpaid leave, but that is all, even though their colleagues who work next door are able to benefit under the Quebec legislation.

Here is a concrete example. I worked as a teacher in a provincial detention centre. I was replacing a person who was on preventive withdrawal, because working in a detention centre is dangerous. That person was really pleased to be able to avail herself of that right and I replaced her. I would feel kind of silly if I told a teacher working in a penitentiary that it is dangerous for her to work in that environment. If she worked in a detention centre, she could leave, but because she is teaching in a penitentiary and cannot get an alternative job, she must take a leave without pay if she wants to be on preventive withdrawal.

This is supposed to be a country where people are encouraged to have children. Our demographic situation is all upside down. In some regions, there are more people over the age of 50 than under it. However, we are telling a woman who wants to have a child that she must give up her salary. That is unfair and unjust.

The hon. member opposite raised an economic argument.

I was really appalled and upset to hear that because, according to the Library of Parliament, the costs could reach $11 million annually. I agree that this may look like a lot of money. However, another study was carried out by Dr. Robert Plante, and published in Le Médecin du Québec magazine in November 2004. Based on an average of 50,000 pregnant women, there were, among those who did not have access to preventive withdrawal, 375 cases of low gestational weight, 460 premature delivery and, what is worse, 340 fetal deaths. This means that out of 50,000 pregnant workers, we would spend $11 million to save 340 children a year.

Members opposite are saying that it is too expensive. Personally, I earn money and I pay taxes at the federal and provincial levels. It seems to me that we could try to invest that money in social programs. But I am told it is too costly. So, we will let 340 children die, even though they would eventually have paid taxes and help correct our demographic situation, all this because the government says it costs too much money. That is a very weak argument and I hope our friends in the other parties will realize that. The government talks about stimulating the economy. It seems to me that people who are born and who work help do just that.

I spoke of my experience replacing someone. This legislation would help the 75,000 women in Quebec who work under the Canada Labour Code.

Some hon. members say this is unfair to the provinces. We have to look at the basics. We currently have a good program in Quebec. We are trying to extend it so that those who work under federal jurisdiction can benefit from it. If some believe this creates inequalities and that it is not fair, then let us extend it Canada-wide. This is just the first step in telling women everywhere who work full time that their job is a little bit dangerous, that they need to take time to have children, because we need children in our society, and that we are going to give them the means and tools to do so.

The bill has been applauded by several women's groups including the Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail and the Fédération des femmes du Québec. The Canadian Union of Public Employees did not tell us this was illegal with regard to the provinces, but that this progressive bill would help 75,000 women in Canada, that we needed to start there and then we would see what could be extended to the rest of Canada.

I am truly in favour of the bill by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This bill will help Canadian and Quebec women and will restore some justice in this country where we ask women to have children, go to work and take care of the home. I think this bill is a very good thing. I encourage every member in the House to think about it and put partisan debates aside in order to pass this bill. I invite everyone to vote in favour of this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), which has been proposed by my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I want to commend him for bringing forward this important legislation.

In terms of the context, currently in Quebec women who are pregnant and nursing have some protection in the workplace if they are covered under Quebec labour laws. However, women who are not under Quebec labour laws but are under Labour Canada do not have the same protection. What the member has proposed would apply to women across Canada if their provincial governments had similar legislation.

I want to quote from the International Labour Organization, which states:

Maternity protection has been a core issue for the International Labour Organization...and informs the work of the Canadian Labour Congress. ILO member States have adopted the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) which states that “the need to provide protection for pregnancy...are the shared responsibility of the government and society” and extends coverage to all employed women, regardless of occupation or type of undertaking (including women employed in atypical forms of work).

That is an important context because the key words to the statement are a shared responsibility of the government and society. I would argue that this shared responsibility is something we in the House should talk about when we talk about pregnant and nursing women in the workplace. It is always interesting to hear people talk about family values and yet when legislation is brought forward, which is designed to protect that very family, members in the House talk in opposition. That is a shame.

A number of organizations across Canada are in support of the legislation. I want to quote CUPE, which applauds the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. It states that this:

—would extend provincial measures governing the paid protective reassignment of pregnant employees to workers under federal jurisdiction. This would include areas such as air and rail transportation, banking, communications, ports and armoured car services.

At present, protective reassignment means that pregnant workers in occupations subject to the Canada Labour Code receive Employment Insurance benefits equivalent to 55 per cent of their pay. For every week of benefits, their maternity leave is reduced by a week. In essence, this amounts to leave without pay.

In effect, if some workers are forced to take an unpaid leave of absence from their work, it actually impacts on their ability to provide care for their children and to provide financial support to their families.

One might ask why this is important and what it is about workplaces that could be unsafe. A number of organizations have talked about the workplace pregnancy risk assessment. I want to point to one that is available, which states:

Why A Workplace Pregnancy Risk Assessment Matters

This comes to the heart of this. We are talking about health and safety in the workplace. This document states:

Workplace risk assessments during pregnancy are especially important because there can be a lot of hazards even in what may seem like the safest of offices.

That is the important point. We are talking about a workplace where normally the woman is very capable of performing the duties in the workplace, but in some situations, when a woman is pregnant or nursing, there are things about it that now make it unsafe for her. She fully intends to return to that workplace, and in most cases we have laws in place where a woman's right to return to work after pregnancy is guaranteed.

However, in this case, this workplace pregnancy risk assessment goes through a number of factors, but I will touch on three. It talks about lifting risks, chemical risks and standing risks. There are a long list of activities that fall under those lists, which would say that it is not a safe place for the woman to work while she is pregnant or nursing.

With respect to chemical risks, I think anyone who has been a mother and has nursed can imagine working in an environment where the breast milk could become contaminated because the woman ingests something in the workplace. Surely we would not women working in those kinds of circumstances. In some cases, the employer is simply not able to reassign the woman to other duties. The workplace may not have those other opportunities. In those cases, the woman requires some financial support until she is able to return to the workplace. This is exactly what Bill C-307 attempts to address.

Many other organizations have been in support of this and I want to specifically quote the Alberta Federation of Labour. It passed a resolution stating that it would work with affiliates, labour councils and the Canadian Labour Congress for the adoption of protective reassignment legislation.

Canada Labour Code
Routine Proceedings

October 3rd, 2011 / 3 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees).

Mr. Speaker, it is with great joy and pride that I rise today in this House to introduce a bill that meets the needs of the workers' movement across the country and responds to the demands of many women's groups. The purpose of this bill, which is completely reasonable, is to correct a great injustice—the differential treatment of female workers subject to the Quebec Labour Code or other provincial labour codes and those working in organizations under federal jurisdiction, who are subject to the Canada Labour Code.

The Canada Labour Code does not include the true right to preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women. This bill seeks to correct this injustice and give all female workers across the country access to the compensation provided for in the provincial legislation so that they can withdraw in health if their work threatens their health and safety or that of their unborn child.

The Canada Labour Code currently provides only for unpaid leave. In other words, it puts the health and safety of certain women or certain fetuses at risk by forcing women to stay at work too long because they do not have the financial means to withdraw in order to protect their health and safety and that of their child.

Since I trust that all members of this House care about the health of women and their unborn children and that they want to stand up for families, I expect nothing less than unanimous support for this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)