An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Mark Eyking  Liberal

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

Status

Not active, as of April 25, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment extends the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from fifteen weeks to fifty weeks.

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

April 25, 2007 Passed That Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be concurred in at report stage.
Dec. 5, 2006 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the expansion of the employment insurance system proposed in Bill C-278, legislation seeking to extend the maximum period from 15 weeks to 50 weeks for which EI benefits for illness, injury or a quarantine may be paid.

While I share the concern for those who must be absent from work owing to illness, I believe we should carefully review the adequacy of the EI sickness benefits available at present before endorsing the changes proposed in this bill.

Currently, the EI program provides for a 15 week sickness benefit designed to provide short term income replacement to individuals who are absent from their job due to illness, injury or quarantine. Claimants qualify with a medical certificate and 600 hours of insured work in the past year, as little as 12 hours a week.

Sickness benefits thus provide a quick response to those in need and they are fully integrated with the other EI benefits for job loss, such as maternity or parental benefits and compassionate care benefits.

The Canada Employment Insurance Commission monitors and assesses the impacts of the employment insurance system on the economy, communities and individuals, reporting its finding in an annual report.

The commission's latest report noted that the average duration of sickness benefits through 2004-05 remained stable at 9.5 weeks. This is consistent with a recent Statistics Canada study stating that the average work absence owing to illness or a disability has remained constant at 10 weeks for the past 13 years.

When viewed in this context, the 15 week EI sickness benefit is meeting the program's objective of providing short term, temporary income support to workers when they are ill.

For the interest of the House, I note that such a position is similar to that of the former Liberal government, which included the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria. In its response to a report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons of Disabilities tabled in May 2005, the former Liberal government clearly stated that EI sickness benefits, as presently constructed, were adequately meeting its intended objective. I will quote verbatim from the Liberal response:

...the majority of workers who turn to EI when they are unable to work due to illness or injury, 15 weeks is meeting the objective of providing temporary income support.

As I previously stated, I would concur with such an assessment. Furthermore, I would question the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for a logical explanation as to why such a reasoning is no longer valid.

Moreover, when considering changes to the EI sickness benefits, we should be cognizant of the diverse range of other programs or supports available for those absent from the labour market due to illness.

At present, EI sickness benefits are designed as a short term income replacement measure that complement, and I underline the word complement, a range of other supports that are available for longer term illnesses and disability, including benefits offered through employer sponsored group insurance plans, private coverage held by individuals and long term disability benefits available under the Canada pension plan.

Before adding 35 weeks to the 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits now available, we need to fully understand the needs of clients and the impacts on other types of support benefits. An extensive examination of other possible implications would also be required.

Such an examination would have to take into account a number of issues. One is a thorough study of the effects such an extension would have on the labour market, particularly with respect to employer-employee relationships. For example, under the current EI provision, an employer can expect an employee's return to work after a limited absence for health reasons or, if the person is unable to return, the establishment of other arrangements suited to a long term disability.

EI sickness benefits are intended to replace lost income for short term absence. If they were greatly extended, how would this affect the employer's obligation? When, for instance, would this working relationship end? This relationship bears careful consideration and consultation before contemplating any steps to extend sickness benefits.

In addition, an option for employers under the EI program is a reduction in their premiums if they provide coverage to their employees for short term illness, injury or quarantine that is at least equivalent to EI benefits.

Currently, reduced premiums are paid on about 60% of all insurable earnings in Canada, representing reduced premiums of about half a billion dollars for 34,000 employers across the country.

Clearly, a change of the magnitude proposed under Bill C-278 would considerably affect employers and the premium reduction program would require thorough examination to determine the full impact on businesses.

Another consideration is that the coverage employers provide to their employees is sometimes underwritten by private companies and an extended EI fund and sickness benefit could be in direct competition with the private sector in many instances.

An analysis of the effects on private insurers would be essential. The administration of EI itself would also be greatly affected by such a change.

At the present time, EI sickness benefits are simply and quickly processed based on a medical certificate from the claimant's doctor. If the duration of these benefits were increased substantially, it could require a reassessment of current EI sickness, design and delivery, including expanding medical assessment requirements, such as requiring a third party or a government doctor to issue the medical certificate. The relatively quick response now available might suffer or require the introduction of multi-step approvals on longer claims.

There is also the consideration of mixed claims. Often, claimants need a variety of EI benefits to combine, for example, maternity and sickness. The bill does not reflect its possible impact on other parts of the EI Act that would also need to be changed, such as dealing with combined special benefit claims.

Finally, the cost factor is certainly another important consideration. Considerable research would be required to determine an accurate cost estimate of increasing the benefit entitlement as extensively as proposed in the bill.

Nevertheless, we do share the hon. member's compassion for the people who find themselves unable to work due to illness. Indeed, our new government is committed to the monitoring and assessing of all aspects of the EI program to ensure it continues to serve Canadians in an effective and in a timely manner. This includes sickness benefits. We appreciate that some persons are absent from work for more than 15 weeks due to illness. However, at this point it is not clear as to whether EI is the appropriate mechanism for responding to these longer term absences from the labour market.

Nevertheless, further examination of the implications of extending EI sickness benefits, both within and outside of the parameters of Bill C-278, may be warranted.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria quoted some of the recommendations in a report and he talked about some of the subcommittee recommendations.

He was a former Liberal government member whose party, a little over a year ago, declared that the current EI sickness benefit was adequate. I too want to quote as he did. In a parliamentary committee response from May 2005, the then Liberal government stated:

...the majority of workers who turn to EI when they are unable to work due to illness or injury, 15 weeks is meeting the objective of providing temporary income support.

The Liberal government also declared:

In the event a worker's illness or injury extends beyond that period of time, long term income protection may be available through the Canada pension plan and other employment related benefits.

Clearly, the position is seemingly in contradiction to the crux of Bill C-278. Consequently, I wonder if the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria could inform the House as to why the arguments of his former Liberal government are no longer valid.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin the second reading debate on Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to all my colleagues in this House who have already expressed to me their support for this piece of legislation and who, like me, know constituents, friends or family members who have experienced financial hardship as they recovered from debilitating diseases such as cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis, or one of the many other ailments that afflict people in our society.

I must also extend a special thanks to the MP for Cape Breton—Canso who seconded the bill at first reading.

As I stated, Bill C-278 deals with the Employment Insurance Act and specifically paragraph 12(3)(c) pertaining to sickness benefits.

When the EI Act was passed in the late 1990s, sickness benefits were provided in the spirit of compassion and support for someone who had to leave the job market temporarily to battle a disease. This financial support allowed an individual to focus on his or her treatment and to get well so he or she could return to the workforce as soon as possible.

To qualify under the sickness benefits provision, a claimant must have worked for a period of 600 or more hours of insurable employment during the qualifying period and must not be receiving similar benefits from another level of government or a private company. In order to determine the length of time a person would receive benefits, a claimant must provide a medical certificate from a medical professional attesting to the person's inability to work and stating the duration of the illness, injury or quarantine. Said another way, the number of weeks is set by the doctor who provides officials at the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development with a medical certificate which tells them how long a person should receive benefits.

Under the regulations, there is an appeal mechanism for HRSD officials in the event the time recommended seems inappropriate, but that is seldom used. A person's physician after all is almost always the best person to determine how long it will take his or her patient to recover and be able to return to the workforce. The act, however, does have a restriction on how long a doctor can recommend extending EI benefits which is a maximum of 15 weeks. Bill C-278 addresses this length of time.

My constituency office in Cape Breton, like many of the constituency offices of my colleagues, deals with many different types of federal government programs. In my riding of Sydney—Victoria, we deal with everything from immigration cases, to economic development funding, and of course employment insurance benefits, to name just a few.

One recurring issue that my staff have had to deal with is people who have applied for EI sickness benefits and have received the full 15 weeks available under the act but have found themselves incapable of returning to work. Quite simply, some claimants find that 15 weeks is just not long enough to either receive their full treatment or to have ample time to recover from a surgery or procedure. They are unable to go back to work and are in considerable financial difficulty. The resulting stress on them and their family is unwelcome, especially when they are already dealing with pain and the stress of battling a disease.

It is unfortunate that at the very time when 100% of a person's energy should be focused on getting better, his or her EI sickness benefits suddenly come to an end. The person is forced to deal not only with the stress of trying to get well but of finding money to pay rent, buy groceries, heat the home, you name it. All those bills start adding up. This is simply counterproductive.

We have seen, over the years, medical study after medical study pointing to the fact that stress has a negative effect on our bodies. Certainly it would have a negative impact on a person's effort to recover from a prolonged or serious ailment.

I do not profess to be the first to raise this issue. As many members know, the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development struck a subcommittee in the previous Parliament to look at the Employment Insurance Act and ways that the act could be improved or modified. In fact the subcommittee was chaired by my colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso. One of the 28 recommendations coming out of the research conducted and the testimony taken at the subcommittee addressed the issue of sickness benefits and recommended that the number of weeks must be increased.

A similar refrain appears to come from the very department that manages the employment insurance program. Each year the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development issues what is called the employment insurance monitoring and assessment report. In the most recent report, the issue of the length of time a person is eligible for sickness benefits has been noted. I am going to quote the 2005 report:

About 32% of sickness beneficiaries in 2004/05 used the entire 15 weeks of benefits to which they were entitled. This proportion has been relatively stable in recent years, suggesting that for some types of claimants or illnesses, 15 weeks of benefits may not be sufficient.

This HRSD report points to the very issue that Bill C-278 seeks to address.

We have all witnessed legislation which has gone through the House and which appears to have dealt with an issue effectively, but after the actual program has been put into practice, we have realized that adjustments have been needed to refine it and make it fit into real life circumstances. This is one such case.

I want to be clear here. The bill would increase the total number of weeks someone could receive sickness benefits to up to 50 weeks. This does not mean that all claimants require that amount of time to seek treatment, to recover or to re-enter the workforce. In fact, the same 2005 employment insurance monitoring and assessment report that I referenced points out that the average length of time that people draw benefits is nine and a half weeks. The average length is not 15 weeks; it is nine and a half weeks.

Again, a doctor should determine the length of time that a person should receive benefits. In some cases, the doctor may determine that it is in the best interests of the person to return to the workforce sooner, but there are cases when people need more time to recover, when they should not have to return to work early and risk prolonging their illness and possibly having a relapse.

The most glaring instance of this is with respect to the treatment of cancer. All of us know someone with cancer, whether it is someone in our ridings or in our families. A 2004 survey of women fighting breast cancer revealed that a full 76% of respondents reported being off work for more than 15 weeks. They need more than 15 weeks to treat breast cancer. In fact, most oncologists will say that it takes up to a year for a person to go through chemotherapy, sometimes surgery, and to recover from these procedures. It is imperative in my mind that we find a way to help people through such a very difficult time.

I would put to the House that the spirit and intent back when the Employment Insurance Act sickness benefits provisions were first enacted was to help people through such hard times. Times have changed. There seem to be more people with cancer, but it is more easily cured, so we have to change the act accordingly.

I am very happy to report to the House that Bill C-278 has been well received by many stakeholders close to the issue, people who know and are involved with this issue. I am in receipt of letters of support from national organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society and provincial organizations such as the Lung Association of Nova Scotia.

I am also hearing from front line workers such as social workers at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. As many of my colleagues are well aware, the Princess Margaret Hospital is one of the leading cancer treatment, research and education facilities in this country. They would know how important this is.

In a letter, the social workers at the hospital endorsed the bill and noted that patients with breast cancer need up to 12 months for treatment, and for leukemia the length of time ranges from 9 to 12 months. They also noted that the intent of the cancer treatment is curative with patient participation providing the foundation for patients to return to work following the completion of their treatments.

I have also received support from many leading labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress, as well as the Canadian Auto Workers. In a letter, Mr. Buzz Hargrove, the national president of the Canadian Auto Workers, noted that the Supreme Court confirmed that the federal government has a responsibility for EI benefits when workers are temporarily separated from their work due to sickness, parental leave or compassionate care.

I am bolstered by the support of all these organizations. So many people have called me from across the country to say that they see the benefit of this. Some did not have the benefits when they went through their treatments, but they see the benefit for people with illnesses and ailments down the road. They see how it makes us a more productive society. They see how it helps people through life's hard times so that they do not fall through the cracks, do not lose their vehicles and fall by the wayside under tremendous stress. It helps people to get back into society and be productive.

This points to a need for this legislation. It speaks to the fact that people are dealing with this issue daily. The job of health professionals, associations and organizations is to make people better. Our job is to help people financially while they are getting treatment. These organizations represent workers that are afflicted by prolonged and serious diseases. These people are all behind this bill.

I would ask the House to recognize the importance of extending these EI benefits to 50 weeks. I ask the House to support the bill and to pass it at second reading.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, on May 31, 2006, you invited members to comment on whether Bill C-278 would require a royal recommendation.

Without commenting on the merits of this private member's bill, I would appreciate your consideration of whether this bill requires a royal recommendation since the bill provides a significant increase in the expenditure of funds.

Currently the employment insurance program includes a 15-week sickness benefit period to provide temporary income support to individuals who are injured or too sick to work. Bill C-278 would extend the maximum period for which benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from the current 15 weeks to 50 weeks.

On December 8, 2004, Mr. Speaker, you found that a similar private member's bill required a royal recommendation since it would have increased EI benefits by extending the benefit period. You said:

The improvements to the employment insurance program envisioned by this bill include the required minimum number of hours worked in order to qualify, lengthening the period that one can receive benefits, and, as well, increasing those benefits.

It is clear that such changes to the employment insurance program would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures of public revenue. Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.

Mr. Speaker, the principles in the above ruling should apply to Bill C-278, which would increase benefits by extending the benefit period, thereby requiring increased spending of public revenues. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I submit that Bill C-278 should be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

October 19th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Employment Insurance ActRoutine Proceedings

May 12th, 2006 / noon
See context

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine).

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House to introduce a bill that is not only important for many of my constituents in the riding of Sydney—Victoria, but also for many citizens in Canada who come upon an illness or an injury that removes them from the workforce.

As a previous business owner and now a member of Parliament, I have witnessed many of my employees falling into economic difficulties because of an injury or illness. The bill would help all valued employees, going through difficult times, until they could re-enter the workforce again.

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