Debates of June 9th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.
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David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member listening and taking the time to comment. I do not think it is that hard to figure out. I was hoping everybody would vote for the motion, but I was also pointing out that I do not want that to become the only thing the Conservatives are prepared to do, which is to vote for a motherhood motion.
I did not write down exactly what the member said, but it had something to do with rhetoric and shrill comments and that is fair comment. My speaking style lends itself to that kind of criticism and I accept that.
The member asks what I want. What I want is for the Conservatives not to vote for what is now simply a motherhood position, and should be a motherhood position, and that is to help older workers.
We had a motion in the House last week to improve the system so people could go from 14 weeks to the best 12 weeks. Does the member want to know what I want? I want to see more than 7 out of 99 Conservatives stand and put their precious votes on the line to do something that helps older workers and workers in general rather than just vote for a motherhood position.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Madam Speaker, first I want to thank and congratulate my NDP friend for the quality of his speech and for his determination. It was indeed a passionate speech, but not too passionate. As a matter of fact, it is even more moderate than the aggression against workers and it is therefore to his credit.
His comments about the Liberal Party are so true. If the Liberals were driving on the road, they would be very dangerous for the other drivers, putting on their left signal, but turning to the right. This can cause accidents and damages, particularly to workers in this case.
The minister talked earlier about training for workers. Everybody agrees with that, even the NDP. However, I would have liked to hear the minister talk about income support measures. She did not say anything about that. I would like the member to tell us if he has thought about it, and if so, what he thinks of her silence. I would like to understand a little better the concern he was expressing a little earlier.
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
Madam Speaker, I was rather underwhelmed by the speech from the minister. I realize she is new but I did not hear about commitment. The only thing that really mattered was that the government would vote for it, and that is good. It guarantees this will pass.
There is something I would like to see. We keep dealing with these economic issues. The train wreck is coming. We know the trains are on the same track. We know that globalization, free trade, corporate downsizing, all these things, cause massive layoffs.
The federal Liberals seem to spend more time ensuring that enough ambulances are there to take people to the hospital rather than getting in behind the scene and stopping the crash in the first place. That takes us into their trade, economic and budget policies and a whole host of other issues. In addition to dealing with people who are affected by this, we ought to be doing everything we can as a nation to bloody well prevent it from happening in the first place.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas for introducing this motion before the House of Commons.
I must say, first of all, that it is too bad because the hon. member had a chance and opportunity to introduce a motion asking for specific measures. Such a motion might have read as follows: “That, in the opinion of the House, the Liberal government should establish a retirement program for people of a certain age who have lost their jobs”. He could have introduced something specific.
But this motion is quite vague—so vague in fact that the Liberals will be able to adopt it. He could have introduced the following motion: “That, in the opinion of the House, due to the increasing number of factory closures, the government should establish a strategy—”
It was not necessary to mention the context of globalization. The fish in Chaleur Bay are not affected by globalization. That is not why there are no more cod and why fishers have lost their jobs. There are nuances here and questions of interpretation already.
I am just saying it is too bad that this was not more direct. As my friend commented last week when he said that the NDP motion was a piecemeal motion, consisting of little bits, I would like to return the compliment and tell him that this motion is piecemeal; these are little bits.
It seems that the government has stood up. It is going to support this motion because it already has a strategy and pilot projects that are underway. It is already doing that. It just boasted that it was doing all the right things. In reality, it is not doing the right things, when you get down to it. That is what I am getting at, at the reality out there.
With all due respect, it is true that we can stand up in Canada and say the economy is doing well in some regions. It is true that the economy is doing well in Alberta, where they were looking for people to come and work. There is a shortage of workers. In other regions, the economy is doing well in manufacturing.Things are very good in certain regions, but in others, things are not so good.
I want to talk about the Acadian peninsula region, where three fish processing plants have closed since 2003. Hundreds of people have been laid off. The average age of these workers is 45 and up. If that is the average age, how many are 50 or 55 years old or more?
The strategy of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development is to providing training and education. Some of these people have worked in fish plants for over 35 years. They have a grade 10 or 11 education. They wonder what they are to do, at age 55. Are they supposed to finish grade 12 and then go to university? That makes no sense.
This is where an income support program would help. It would keep people in the riding. The Conservative member said earlier that the program in his region had allowed people to stay there, just like the POWA and the PWAP, which helped loggers and plant workers in 1992. Those people had the opportunity to stay in the region.
These programs no longer exist. The only program we have is social assistance, which means poverty and hardship. This is disgraceful for a country that claims to have a really strong economy.
The government forgets what is happening out there. We cannot simply look at statistics and the situation in major cities or in prosperous regions. We have to look elsewhere and see the impact caused by disasters, such as losing the Atlantic fishery. We need only look at what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador. These people need assistance programs.
Earlier, the Conservatives were saying that they had problems with the changes to EI. Of course. The Subcommittee on the Employment Insurance Funds of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities considered a bill and wanted to make recommendations.
I remember that the member for Portage—Lisgar said that EI premiums should be lowered. He had six employees and it was too expensive for him. That way, he would save money.
I would say he had a conflict of interest as a member of the House of Commons. He wanted us to pass a bill that would have reduced premium rates, because his company was paying out too much money. He should abstain from voting on employment insurance issues. He supports only those measures that are favourable to employers, such as the lowering of premiums.
In addition to EI, we need programs for workers. I support training programs. We must remember, however, that the program they are asking today to have established, although we do not have all the details, could cost $55 million. In Acadie—Bathurst alone, $81 million in EI benefits are lost each year, whereas the figure is $275 million annually for New Brunswick. We are talking here of a national program, which would cost $55 million. How many families would be happy with it? Some say that $55 million is a lot of money. In my opinion, it is only a drop in Chaleur Bay, compared with the money the Liberals have spent recently. They spend in chunks of $100 million, without any problem. We have to pay for the Gomery commission, which will cost nearly as much. They have no problem, though, spending money on scandals.
However, the shoe is on the other foot when it comes time to help workers forced into poverty after losing their jobs without wanting to, when they are no longer of an age to attend community college or university. The motion concerns these people. There is no question here of giving training to a 30 year old man working in a factory where new technology has been introduced, in order for him to keep his job.
There are different things to be noted about employment. There is an EI program already, called phase II, under which companies can let the government know they have acquired new technology and request funding in order to train their employees. Thus, they get funding.
Let us take an example that occurred not so long ago in my riding in New Brunswick. At the Brunswick mine, Noranda asked the government for funds to provide training to miners and tradespeople so they could continue to do their work. It received $2 million to provide training, which helped these workers keep their jobs.
Let us go back to the motion. It does not deal with that; it deals with people who have lost their job and who are in a dead end. They are at an age where they can still earn a living; they want income support. This is not a strategy dealing with all aspects of employment. There are already different kinds of strategies. The motion itself deals with people who no longer have a job and who will not find another one. Even if they take the train or the plane out to Alberta, they would not be hired. These 1,000 men and women who work in fish processing plants in Caraquet, Shippagan, Lamèque, Maisonnette, Anse-Bleue, Bas-Caraquet, even if we were to send them, with all due respect, to Calgary, Esso would not hire them on work sites.
We are talking about these people who lost their job and who do not want to become welfare recipients. They want to live with some pride and dignity. They do not want to have to say that, as a reward for having given 35 years of their life to their employer, they now rely on welfare and are among the poorest on the planet.
This is what the motion is about: putting in place programs that are similar to those that existed in 1988 and in 1992, programs to help people when they lose their job.
This is not only associated with globalization; it is related to the realities in the regions. We must help not only workers, but the regions themselves. If we lose these workers, it is the regions themselves that suffer, small businesses as well as all the other people.
Nevertheless, we will support the motion, because it is going in the right direction. As I said, it does not go far enough, it only proposes bits and pieces, but we will support it. It will help older workers who are in need. With $46 billion in EI surplus, the government has the responsibility to do so.
Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON
Mr. Speaker, because of the member's experience in dealing with issues of displaced workers and EI, I have a question for him.
When we are talking about older workers in my region, whether they be miners, forestry workers, people working the land or people living in isolated communities, when they lose their jobs it is not only them who are displaced, it is the entire community. To add to that, many of these people have already suffered physical damage through the type of work they have done and are unable to be retrained. They are facing medical costs. If they are 48 or 49 years old and have worked 20 some years in the mines, their backs are gone.
When these people lose their jobs their entire community is affected. We are talking here about single industry communities. We have to add to the fact that while they have lost their income, they have also lost equity in their homes. Who will buy a home in a community where the mill has shut down?
We also see this in the loss of services. We cannot get doctors and nurses into communities where the income sources are dying. The young people will not return.
I also would like the member to comment on what is happening in northern Ontario now where the provincial Liberal government is committed to allowing the giant forestry companies to move the wood to wherever they please. They are creating super mills. The provincial government is allowing the large forestry companies that control the entire wood supply in Quebec and Ontario to move the wood where they want. They are then separating our resources from our communities.
Communities in my region, such as Opasatika, Val Rita, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Iroquois Falls and Smooth Rock Falls, are dependent on these resources. We are now being told by the provincial Liberals, which I believe is also part of a larger strategy at the federal level, that resources do not belong to communities nor to people any more, that they belong to the corporations.
With his experience, could the member tell us how we address the issue of workers who have lost their jobs in single industry communities when there are no alternatives and they are aging?
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, we have the same problem in New Brunswick. The pulp and paper company in New Brunswick allowed a front line company to come in and it is running the place. The community has nothing to say on it any more. Right now they are on strike.
The government not only allowed the wood to go out of the community but it allowed it to go out of New Brunswick because it supports big corporations and corporations can do anything they want.
It was a shame when the mill in Nackawic went into bankruptcy and the workers lost their pension plan. What did the government do to help them? It has done sweet nothing so far. This is a shame.
What the motion would do is create a program to help those people who are aging. It is the same with Brunswick Mines when it closes five years from now. We will have people 50 years old and unemployed.
I was an underground worker and I am sure if I had continued to work there until I was 50 years old and then lost my job, I would not have been able to find another job. I would have been searching but I probably would never have found a job. Most of the jobs available today are in the high tech industry and using computers. Our youth today learn computers at the age of two, but not the workers who come out of a mine, such as the ones in Timmins or in New Brunswick.
When the Minister of Natural Resources visited my region he told the woodcutters to take their power saws and hang them on the wall because it was over, that the company no longer wanted power saws in the bush. They told New Brunswickers how they should work. They put people out of their jobs and put them on welfare. This is not taking responsibility for the community.
The only way to take responsibility for the community is to look after the community and to talk with the people and find solutions. It is not just by running away with the company and saying that if it does something to the big company it will close its door. Well, let it close the door and go home because we do not need it.
We need a company that accepts responsibility. We could do it through people and through co-ops where we could look at ways to keep our resources and create jobs instead of taking the job, sending it somewhere else and not taking responsibility.
I say shame on the Liberal government of Ontario if it does not look after the workers. When an election comes, oh boy, it certainly wants the votes of these working men and women.
June 9th, 2005 / 12:15 p.m.
Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
I am pleased that the Bloc has brought in this motion today on the program for older workers. The textile and clothing industries are seriously affected. The situation is alarming and the numerous closures will keep on happening. The Bloc Québécois is delighted to have the support of the present minister for this motion.
As we know, the government has been slow to act and has not provided enough assistance, particularly for the workers who lost their factory jobs in the Huntingdon area.
More than 800 jobs were lost and the measures announced will not be sufficient to replace them. I have great difficulty in understanding the Minister of Finance's statement that the Bloc Québécois was impatient to get this settled, when it was an urgent matter.
These factories were the source of income for couples, for entire families, from one generation to another, and were a true economic force for all the surrounding municipalities. Seventy-five per cent of the working population of Huntingdon and the surrounding area was employed there.
The region is undergoing a serious crisis because of the announced textile mill closures. The workers have sounded an alarm and are calling for an immediate emergency plan. More than 43% of the workers affected have not finished high school and are over the age of 50. You will therefore understand that it is not very likely they will be returning to work. Whole towns and villages are at risk of disappearing. These factories are their only hope.
Many such factories have closed and many more will in the weeks and months to come. My riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry and several others in Quebec have been hard hit.
On December 13, 2004, two factories closed down in Huntingdon, throwing 800 people out of work. That was 40% of the manufacturing sector jobs in the region. Today, they are all closed. In Huntingdon, 30% of the population is below the poverty line, and 70% of the working population used to be employed in the factories that have closed down. These two factories paid out $25 million in wages annually and contributed $600,000 to the municipality in taxes.
At the moment, psychological and economic distress hangs over the entire region: Huntingdon, Ormstown, Valleyfield and the RCMs of Haut-Saint-Laurent Beauharnois. The whole area is affected. In both cases, the workers who were laid off are having difficulty finding a job. Nearly half of them did not complete their final year of high school.
On December 9, 2004, I tabled in this House a petition signed by 2,845 workers from the region of Huntingdon, which was intended to make the federal government aware of the increasingly obvious problems in the textile industry. No help was provided in response to this cry of alarm by the workers of my riding.
On December 14, 2004, following pressure from the Bloc Québécois, the government hastily announced three measures to help the industry.
We asked a number of questions in this House, and the minister—the former minister—even added insult to injury by saying that older workers did not want passive measures. That is an indication of the extent of this government's irony and disdain.
On February 8, 205, we presented a motion in this House to establish a POWA, among other things. Most of the members supported it. Unfortunately, the government put paid to the will of the members and did nothing.
Contrary to what the former minister said, the workers in my riding want active measures, but the older ones want passive measures, such as a program of assistance for older workers. They feel the government has abandoned them.
On March 24, I tabled another petition with over 5,300 names calling for the return of POWA. The government's reaction was the same: nothing.
In my riding, the work of local stakeholders will probably make it possible to reclassify many of the workers in various business that will be set up in the region later on. One serious problem remains, however, with the so-called older workers. There is a consensus in the region that older workers need a government program to bridge between EI and retirement.
The Bloc Québécois is concerned at the moment about this and has had discussions with local stakeholders to resolve it. On behalf of the workers whose factory doors have closed, I call on the federal government to act, as I have done since the start of this session of the House, to help the older workers in my riding.
The worst thing about this is that the federal government has known for a long time what was brewing and did nothing. The Bloc Québécois has been talking for months about the serious danger of massive job losses in the textile industry and had been demanding transition measures. But Ottawa has always turned a blind eye.
The first POWA started in 1983 to help the workers at Dominion Textile, which had a plant in Valleyfield in my riding. The federal government slaughtered the employment insurance system and ended the second POWA in March 1997. And now it is accumulating huge budget surpluses of $9.1 billion on the backs of workers in the provinces.
In the textile industries in the Huntingdon area, about 170 jobs out of the 800 would be eligible for a possible older workers assistance program, or about 21% of the laid off workers. It will be essential to provide assistance for textile workers who lose their jobs because there will inevitably be companies that close their doors. The workers in this sector are often older and do not have much education, and many of them will not be able to find other jobs. The laid off workers need a program like POWA more than ever to enable older people to bridge the gap between employment insurance and retirement. The future of an entire region depends on it.
If the government does not want to assume this task, it should transfer the money to Quebec City so that Quebec, like the provinces, can meet the needs of older workers.
The Bloc Québécois believes that Ottawa should provide the maximum amount allowed under the Employment Insurance Act for training and give Quebec its share. The Government of Quebec's annual shortfall is more than $200 million. The current situation in the textile and apparel sector is a perfect example of the need for a program to assist older workers and pay benefits to those who could possibly lose their jobs in companies that are affected by this situation.
The solution is very simple: institute an older workers assistance program that would bridge the gap between employment insurance and retirement. The Bloc Québécois estimates that the cost of establishing a POWA in the textile sector all across Canada would be $50 million.
Older workers currently receiving employment insurance benefits are desperate. After the benefits run out, what awaits these older textile workers? Social assistance maybe? Some of these workers have come to see me, very discouraged, and even talking about suicide. Others wondered how they would survive after their benefits run out.
The slaughter is continuing, and the government must be sensitive to the cries of despair coming from these workers. It is important and essential therefore that the government come to the assistance of older textile workers by establishing an older workers assistance program.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague for his speech and for all the work he has been doing on this issue, which we generally associate with the city of Huntingdon. The hon. member did indicate, however, that the situation is far from being limited to that city.
As the Bloc critic for human resources and skills development, I recently had the opportunity to meet with more than 130 workers. My colleague and I inquired about the situation. At this time, the priority is to ensure income when the regular EI benefits period is over.
Here is my question for my colleague. Could he describe for the House the income situation of people from his riding who have been laid off? In fact, they were not all laid off at the same time. Some have been without job for one year while others lost their job just recently. I would like him to give us a portrait of those workers' situation.
Alain Boire Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas for his question.
Indeed, the situation in the Haut-Saint-Laurent RCM, which includes Huntingdon, Ormstown and surrounding areas, is critical. The last plant shut down on May 27. The workers who were first laid off have now used up their employment insurance benefits. These people now find themselves with nothing, with no income.
Last weekend, I met people who told me that they had sold their house. Many houses are up for sale. These older workers have nothing left, they have no income, no savings. They find themselves in a very critical situation.
Tensions run fairly high in that region. We sense a feeling of despair regarding the help that the government can bring to these people. They feel forgotten and ridiculed. Generation after generation, these people gave their lives working for these plants. They paid municipal taxes and they paid income tax. But, right now, they are being abandoned, they are left to fend for themselves.
Let us not forget that this is an agricultural region, not far from the Jardins du Québec. This means there are not many businesses hiring people, with the result that these workers cannot retrain in other fields.
After I tabled petitions in the House, the former minister replied that HRSDC was providing active programs. However, we cannot ask a 55 year old person who, as is the case for 43% of the population in that region, has not completed a high school education, to go back to school. The education level is very low to start with.
We cannot ask them to start a business either. These people are manual workers, which means they need some outside help, as soon as their employment insurance benefits run out, to meet their needs until they reach retirement.
POWA would be an ideal solution for them, since the region has already experienced a similar situation. Indeed, Dominion Textile, in Valleyfield, shut down a number of years ago and such a program was put in place. This is why POWA is critical for that region.
Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I think today marks an important milestone in an issue the Bloc Québécois has been working intensively on for several years, trying to get the federal government to agree to re-create a program for older worker assistance, and not merely a retraining program to enable people to find other jobs.
Today, there has been recognition by the minister of the Bloc Québécois's proposal, which must also include a component called “income support”. There are measures called passive measures which, basically, are very active, because their aim is to ensure that a person who is 57 or 58 years old, who no longer has a job, who tries to find another job, but is not successful, can receive income support that enables him or her to make it to the period of time when they will be able to receive adequate benefits from the Quebec pension plan or old age security.
A lot of questions related to this issue have been asked over the years during oral question period. Bills have been introduced. But for several years, our efforts have been blocked by the government's position. Today, we learn from the minister that the government will vote in favour of our motion. I hope this example will be followed up on as soon as possible to ensure that there be a real and concrete program which will allow these workers to have a decent income when they no longer have a job, when they prepare for retirement and when they are unable to find employment.
I find this more important now than exactly a year ago when we were in the middle of an election campaign. In my riding, unfortunately, there was the announcement that the Whirlpool plant, which employed 500 people, would close. Out of these 500 people, 100 or so were older and met the criteria of the Program for Older Worker Adjustment.
I met with these people in the days following the election. They were the first group to ask for a meeting in my office. I remember a few workers explaining their own situation to me. I met with them again over the past year and they had taken steps to find work, which was not exactly easy.
Today, in the context of globalization, there is a real flurry of competition. The clothing, textile, furniture and other sectors are deeply affected by the competition from China, India, Bangladesh and other emerging markets.
Globalization has brought about significant gains in productivity. There is more to it than just the negative. There are very positive aspects to globalization that help us capture market shares. There is the gain in productivity that we are making as a society. However, for now, the people who are being penalized by the negative side of globalization, or by the job losses in the less competitive sectors, have not benefited from this gain in productivity whatsoever. I hope they will.
I gave the example of the people from Whirlpool. People who worked for 25 or 30 years, who contributed to the EI plan the whole time, who were employed 365 days a year and were told at the end of the day, “After your severance package, there will be 45 weeks of EI and that is it”, truly feel like they have been had since the contributions they paid during 25 or 30 years of work provided other people with a satisfactory income. And they do not get to benefit from it in any acceptable way.
I think our motion deserves to be supported and it seems like it will be by all the members of this House. We hope a program will be implemented as soon as possible.
There is another example in my riding—Industries Troie, in Saint-Pamphile. There were 180 women working in this modern and very well managed textile industry. Unfortunately, with the new global competition, these women found themselves without a job overnight. Since that time, we are trying to give them a chance and they are trying themselves to find another job.
When one earns $8, $9 or $10 an hour, in our own municipality, it is acceptable in terms of the situation and the value of income. However, if we say to these people that, for the same wages, they will have to go and work 50 or 75 kilometres from their home, there is a problem, because their family is already settled in that area. Consequently, on the economic level, it is totally unacceptable.
Can you imagine what it would mean for older women who cannot find this type of work? It would be important, particularly for low income people, to have access to the supplement that we hope will be implemented through the Program for Older Worker Adjustment.
This program should be applied to all people 55 and over. It should also be flexible. Indeed, someone who takes part in it at 58 or 59 years old should be able to receive an amount that takes into account the fact that the period for receiving other sources of income is shorter.
It should also be flexible enough that a 58 or 59 year old worker who signs up for the program could receive an amount that would take into account the fact that there is a shorter time before he or she has access to other income sources. Furthermore, if one signs up earlier, one could profit from income that would be spaced over a number of years, in order to ensure that the negative impact on the family income would be lower. We must absolutely move forward with this.
For that matter, a pilot project was submitted by Quebec labour federations, that is the CSD, the CSN, the SCSQ and the FTQ. It is a joint project and has been submitted to the government. I am sure that the labour federations as well as their members, the workers, will be happy to hear that today, finally, with the help of the Bloc's motion now before the House, the government says it favours the creation of such a program.
I invite the government to draw inspiration from the program proposed by the labour federations because it is a reasonable program which does not contain extravagant demands. We expect that this program will cost approximately $55 million the first year, and $75 million in following years.
Of course, $55 million is a lot of money. However, if one takes into account the total revenue of the federal government, $55 million is not that much.
We are told that the economy is moving along fairly strongly, that employment is generally doing well and that the interest rates remain low. All this is no doubt due to globalization, the opening of markets. However, those who were negatively impacted, who are in the weakest sectors and now live off the textile industries are in tough situations. This is all due to the entry into the Canadian market of products from China and other emerging nations, further to the abolition of tariffs on December 31.
We therefore have to try and give companies every opportunity. We are trying to give workers every opportunity to retrain when they lose their job. However, we should have the decency to help those who cannot find another job and give them some benefits. It is not a handout. We must simply recognize that in our society we have made choices to improve the overall quality of life of Canadians.
Nevertheless, people will be left behind if we do not come up with a program like the Program for Older Worker Adjustment. This requires a special effort. Let us not forget those who work in factories now and who are 50, 52 or 55 years old. Very often they have been working there for 25 or 30 years.
When they began working in the plants, they did not necessarily have the level of education now required for the jobs they do. However, they certainly acquired expertise that cannot easily be transferred to other employers. During all the years those people worked, the government was happy to let them pay income tax and premiums and contribute to our collective wealth. Now, it should be their turn to receive from the government. That would only be fair. That is the thrust of the motion we moved.
This is what it says:
That, in the opinion of the House, due to the increasing number of factory closures associated with globalization, the government should establish a strategy to help older workers who lose their jobs, a strategy that should include income support measures.
Other types of businesses are not excluded. We say that the present trend is towards globalization. All traditional industries are affected by that new reality. We saw it with lumber, where the crisis had profound impacts. That resulted from globalization and foreign markets expansion.
In our motion, there is an additional element that the government has never recognized until now.
I will conclude with that. Besides the retraining and job search support measures implied by our motion which, I hope will receive unanimous support in the House, the federal government would also put in place a program to help the workers who cannot find a new job before reaching retirement age in spite of all their efforts. I hope that this motion constitutes the last step before the implementation of a program bringing satisfaction and justice to older workers.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his remarks. I should mention that my colleague from the Bloc who just spoke was our party critic for human resources and skills development before I took over. He did an outstanding job which laid the foundation of our positions. Of the 32 suggestions the standing committee on human resources made last fall, 28 dealt with improvements in the EI program.
One of these recommendations was that POWA should be reinstated. Since my colleague has both some experience and knowledge of this issue, I would like him to tell me how the experience of POWA went, especially in the latter stages. In the light of practical experience, how could we implement this program we want to reinstate?
Second, it is worth mentioning that this program is not costly, compared to the amount of money available to fund it.
Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas who, because of his tenacity on all EI issues, is influencing the House to move to different positions. Of course, on certain points, we still have not succeeded in getting any action from the government. But in the end, I am sure that, with logical arguments, we will succeed for the greater good of workers.
We should recall that the assistance program that applied until 1995 helped people get the kind of support we are demanding and hoping for in this program. It was scrapped because they said at that time that it could be too expensive. The government was slashing expenditures right and left. In that context, it scrapped this program.
We must also remember that, at that time, we were not experiencing all the effects of globalization that we are now. Now, our financial situation is much more advantageous overall. However, there are also people who are having a hard time. The program continues to exist in the form of pilot projects for retraining. These projects have continued to operate over the past few years. Some workers have managed to find other jobs. However, what was and is still missing is the part that will help people who are unable to find employment on their own.
As I answer this question, I am thinking of the Whirlpool employees in Montmagny, whom I met. They are in this situation and, today, since the Bloc Québécois motion will pass unanimously, they may see a little light at the end of the tunnel. This will give them the chance to receive a decent income until they are eligible for the old age pension.
This situation deserves much faster action. Given that the minister has indicated she will support our motion today, we hope that a practical program will be created, based on the recommendations made by the central labour bodies in Quebec, among others, since this program is not very costly. We are talking about $55 million for the first year and $75 million after that.
Personally, I suspect that, had the federal government set aside sufficient funds from the EI surpluses over the past ten years instead of using $46 billion for other purposes, this program would have been implemented a long time ago, since the government would have had the money in its reserve fund to be able to do this.
This is a shocking example of how the government circumvented the law by misappropriating the surpluses in the EI fund. Not only did this mean that premiums were too high, but it also delayed the implementation of such a program for many years.
Thus, we hope today that the government will translate its commitment into action as soon as possible so that we will have succeeded in improving EI in this respect at least, and so it will take effect as soon as possible.
Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the House today to the motion. Let me say at the outset that I, like the minister, will be supporting the motion.The issue of older workers is important to society.
However I find the motion rather specific. I would have preferred that the motion dealt with broader classes of workers. I am talking about perhaps even younger workers, disabled workers, workers from visible minorities, female workers and workers from our aboriginal communities.
I also find that the motion is somewhat restricted when it talks about the effects of globalization. As we heard from many of the speakers here today, for a lot of the displaced workers that we see in our own ridings, towns and communities, it is not all from globalization. Part of what is happening in the Atlantic coast fishery is due to globalization but a lot of it is, in certain instances, a lack of fish.
Other trends are out there. The whole technological movement is changing a lot of the way goods are manufactured in this country and that, unfortunately, is displacing workers but, fortunately, in other cases it is employing workers.
We also have this whole dichotomy of shifts from the rural parts of Canada to the urban parts of Canada, which are presenting very specific, unique challenges to those of us in public policy. I therefore would have preferred if the motion had been a little broader but I certainly will be supporting the motion.
I again say that this is an extremely important issue for Canadians and for governments of all levels. It is an issue dealing with the skills, the education levels, the training and the mobility of our workforce. As we look forward in society, there is probably no issue more important to the Canadian economy right now than the skill set of our workers, not only now but in the future.
We are dealing with a society where change is the only constant. Things are changing dramatically. There was a time, going back to our parents and grandparents, that when people left high school, a trade school or whatever school they went to work. It was very common that once they found a job, they kept the same job for 35 or 40 years and then retired.
That situation is no longer the case. I believe present statistics indicate clearly that young people entering the workforce right now can expect to change jobs on seven occasions before they retire. In some of these instances, the changes will be quite dramatic. They will be totally different occupations, different fields and even different professions than when the worker entered the workforce.
There has been a dramatic, fundamental structural change in the Canadian workforce, some of it good, some of it not so good, but I do not think we here in the House of Commons or in any of the provincial legislatures should delude ourselves that we can somehow stand and stop the tide from coming in or going out. These are changes that are going on in society and we need to be there to protect certain classes of workers who are caught in these changes, which is why I will be supporting the motion.
It is timely that this debate take place today. Yesterday General Motors announced it was restructuring. It is in the process of eliminating 25,000 workers from its various plants in North America. We do not know exactly yet where these plants will be. We are hopeful that most of them will not be in Canada, although that has not been decided yet. This is an example of some of the dramatic changes that the North American public has seen in the workplace.
Previous speakers gave personal experience accounts from the their own constituencies. The community of Huntingdon has seen a dramatic shift, whether it is in technology or globalization, and some of the textile plants have closed.
Is there a role for government? My answer is definitely, yes. There has to be a role for government. The government does need a strategy for workers who are displaced, whether it is globalization, technology or workplace changes. Regardless of what it is, the government needs to have a strategy. The point I will make is that the strategy cannot be a narrow strategy directed at one particular class of worker, whether it be a worker over 55 or over 50. It has to be broad, comprehensive and part of a continuum and there definitely has to be a role for government.
One could argue very strenuously, and I could go on for a couple hours on this, that the government presently has a fairly well thought out, well developed strategy with respect to these situations, but it is not perfect. I agree with some of the previous speakers that improvements can and should be made, and hopefully will be made, because this is a very important issue.
Going forward, we need all the workers. We need everyone's shoulder at the wheel. We are dealing with a demographic time bomb in the country. The demographers have told us clearly that our present workforce will be decreased. I believe the year 2011 is the point in time that any increases in the Canadian workforce will have to come from immigration. If there is no immigration, it means the workforce will decrease because of a shortage of workers.
The strategy we are talking about has to deal with older workers, aboriginal and disabled workers and with immigration. We talk about a future shortage of workers. When we talk to business leaders, they tell us that there is an acute shortage in some of the construction trades, with our health care workers and other trades. This has to be part of an overall, comprehensive, workforce strategy. The government has be at the forefront with the provinces, the sectoral councils and with organized labour.
I agree that the older worker who gets caught up in these situations has a unique set of challenges. In many instances they do not have the education levels required to make a move. In many instances the skill set they have acquired over 25, 30 or 35 years is not easily transferable to another job. In many instances they do not have the mobility, like a younger worker, to pull up stakes and go to another community, another province, another part of Canada and in some cases another part of the world.
In many instances an employer, which in a lot of cases is wrong, is not willing to invest in the older worker going forward. That leads to the question, what is an older worker? It is very difficult to put an exact age on an older worker. Some people say 50, some say 55 and some say 60. In that cohort of workers, there is no question they experience a unique set of challenges as do other cohorts of workers.
Should we have a strategy? Yes. Should it involve older workers? Most definitely. Should it involve other cohorts of workers? Yes. Should it be comprehensive? Yes.
The government has a fairly comprehensive strategy to deal with this issue. It is not perfect and I believe improvements can be made to it. A lot of good suggestions have been made by those who spoke before me in the House today.
The first plank in the strategy is the older worker pilot projects initiative. That program was implemented to replace the previous program. It deals specifically with older workers, with respect to certain plants, areas and communities, on a project specific basis.
Circumstances are unique. I will use a plant closure in this discussion as an example. If a plant closure occurs in an area where there is extremely low unemployment and if it involves an industry where the skills are easily transferrable to the plant down the road, then the problem is not as acute as it would be if the plant were in a rural area and the skills were not transferrable to other plants or worse still, if there were just no jobs for workers available for them.
That program has been very successful. Last month the minister extended it for an additional year. The federal government works closely with the provinces with the exception of two. Evaluations are presently ongoing. Hopefully, based upon discussions, it will form part of the minister's strategy for going forward.
Another plank in this whole strategy is the skills training program, which is available to workers of any age. I have had a lot of experience dealing with constituents in this program. I believe it to be a tremendous program. It allows a worker to make a transition from one occupation to another or in some instances, from no occupation to an occupation. This is all part of the employment insurance program. It involves counselling, job search support, training and wage subsidies. It also provides support to those individuals who want to start their own business. It is a highly successful program. I assume the minister and the government will continue this program because it is needed in today's fast changing workplace.
Another issue that has to be part of the continuum is the rate of literacy and numeracy in Canada. It is unsatisfactory and still too low. This issue has to be addressed by governments at all levels. An illiterate person in today's workforce would find it extremely difficult, and some would argue impossible, to make any kind of transition to a workplace that requires any set of skills.
Another issue that has to be part of the overall strategy, dealing with older workers or people who are displaced, is the economic performance of our country.
I believe our unemployment rate is down approximately 6.5% or 6.6%. The unemployment rate for workers over 55 years of age is 5.9%. If the government lost control of the fiscal monetary levers at its disposal, the employment rate would rise to 11% or 12%. There is no question that the unemployment rate of workers over 55 years of age would rise at the same time and there would be more displaced and unemployed older workers.
Over the last eight years the government has done a tremendous job in managing the economic affairs of the country, and I think everyone in the House would agree with me. The unemployment rate is 6%. If that degree of economic management is allowed to continue, I would expect unemployment would remain at lower levels, which then would affect senior workers also.
The speakers for the New Democratic Party raised an interesting point earlier, with which I agree, and it is part of the continuum. That is with respect to pension legislation and it is part of this problem.
We have had situations in the last number of years in our country which are totally unacceptable. Workers have paid into a pension plan for 20, 25, 35, 40 years and part of that pension is not available to them when they retire. There is presently a situation in Nackawic, New Brunswick. Situations have been reported in the financial papers that a lot of the pension plans with the major companies are underfunded.
Clearly it is not a federal jurisdiction, so there are some jurisdictional issues. However, I believe the federal government and all provincial governments have to deal with this issue. It is totally and absolutely unacceptable in today's day and age for a worker to have paid into a recognized pension plan over the years and for some reason, through no fault of that worker, the money is not available for his or her retirement.
Another plank in the strategy is the Canada pension plan. Through the excellent work of the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister is on very sound financial footing now. That is part of the retirement package for older workers. The pension can be taken when people turn 60.
An interesting point that meshes into this discussion is mandatory retirement age. That perhaps involves the provincial legislatures more than federal legislatures, but this issue is coming to the forefront of Canadian public policy. That is the point I am making. As we move forward as a society and face the worker shortage, we need older workers, just as we need disabled workers and workers from our aboriginal communities.
I want to conclude by stating again that I support the motion. To a certain extent, I wish the motion was a little broader. However, it is an important issue. I listened carefully to the speech of the minister this morning. She obviously has a good handle on the situation. I, and I believe most other Canadians, have confidence in her. I look forward to participating in the rest of the debate today.
Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the government colleague who has just spoken about the motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois on this, an opposition day.
The hon. member said that his government had a well thought out strategy and that he could talk about it for a long time. Indeed, I would like him to talk about it, maybe not for as long as he would like, but to flesh out his discourse regarding this strategy he wanted to tell us about.
He also said that our motion should not be limited to only one category of workers. It would be interesting to hear him on this issue as well. Is he referring to all categories or is it limited to certain categories and, if so, which ones?
Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE
Mr. Speaker, the government does have a strategy. Whether it is well thought out, that is for others to decide.
However, to answer the member's question, I find the resolution or motion somewhat restrictive. Yes, I support it because it deals with older workers. Older workers have unique challenges when they are displaced. Sometimes it is educational, sometimes it is the skills not being transferrable, sometimes it is the mobility issue, and sometimes the companies and employers are not willing to make the investment in those older workers.
There are a number of initiatives there not only available to older workers but to all workers. However, if I make one point, I want to make the point that as we move forward in a society where labour shortages are developing, we cannot leave older workers behind who want to work. I am about talking older workers who are 53 years old and want to remain in the workforce. We cannot leave those persons behind, we cannot leave the disabled workers behind, we cannot leave the workers from the aboriginal community behind, and we cannot leave any class or cohort of workers behind as we move forward as a society.