Mr. Speaker, in order to put those listening to us in the right context, it would be wise to remind them that we are discussing Bill C-279, which provides that pension benefits, vacation pay and severance payments are not to be included in earnings in order to give people access to employment insurance benefits immediately. This strikes us as totally fair under the circumstances.
What we feel is unfair is the present situation. Like my colleague who spoke before me, I wish to congratulate the member for Welland for bringing this bill before the House, a bill that I feel will result in a little more humanity in our employment insurance program.
It is also a good time to remind hon. members that the Bloc Québécois has intervened in a number of ways over many years in order to correct this program which has, over time, been gradually destroyed by the two parties each in turn. With respect to benefits when there is money owed to the worker after he leaves, the Conservatives are the ones who imposed that limitation on benefits in 1985. From the 1990s on, the Liberals in turn adopted various measures to limit as much as possible any access to EI. This is one such measure.
Fortunately, as we have just heard from our colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the Liberal Party has rethought its position. That member has brought in some slightly more equitable thinking in order to remedy this situation, which is absolutely unfair to the unemployed. One of the measures in which our colleagues have participated, particularly those in the Liberal Party and the NDP, were discussed at the time of the 2005 examination of employment insurance reform.
Recommendation 23 was focused specifically on correcting that shortcoming. The committee wanted to see the EI regulations not include in calculations of income for benefit purposes any pension income, severance payments or vacation pay. This measure has therefore been in existence since 2005 and two successive governments have not acted on it. I must also indicate, as the preceding speakers have done, that this is only one of the measures that needs to be put in place in order to restore the employment insurance program.
There are currently a number of bills before the House of Commons about this issue. The Bloc introduced four of those bills, and I myself introduced one on behalf of the party. Bill C-308 calls for the following amendments. It would change the qualifying period to 360 hours of work. People would have to work 30 hours per week for a period of 12 weeks to accumulate 360 hours. This measure would eliminate the existing disparity that excludes unemployed workers based on unemployment rates in each region.
The bill would also increase the rate of benefits, which is currently 55%, to 60%. Unemployment organizations, anti-poverty organizations, unions, and even the three opposition parties, if their participation in the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is any indication, are unanimous in their support of this initiative.
This bill, Bill C-308, eliminates the distinctions between a new entrant and a re-entrant to the labour force. That distinction discriminates against women because they are often in unstable jobs and are more likely to be laid off. Also, many women work in so-called atypical part-time jobs. This bill also eliminates the presumption that persons related to each other do not deal with each other at arm’s length; the department must prove it. The bill also increases the maximum yearly insurable earnings to $42,500. That is all in Bill C-308. It is useful to bear these bills in mind.
Then there is Bill C-241, introduced by my Bloc colleague from Brome—Missisquoi, which eliminates the waiting period. I am not the first member to have raised this issue. Tomorrow, in the late afternoon, we will be voting on this bill at second reading. I would urge my colleagues in the House to vote to refer Bill C-241 to committee so that we can eliminate the waiting period, which is yet another measure to prevent as many people as possible from collecting benefits.
Bill C-336, introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé, changes the way in which the qualifying period is calculated in the case of a labour dispute. I am thinking about the dispute that took place in Lebel-sur-Quévillon. The employer claimed that it was not a plant closure. He put off closing the plant as long as possible by locking out the employees. When he finally announced that the plant was closing, the employees had been locked out for more than 200 weeks and therefore did not qualify for employment insurance benefits. This is another serious injustice that must be corrected. We will correct it with Bill C-336, another Bloc bill that will soon be studied at second reading.
Bill C-339, introduced by my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, extends the maximum period for which special benefits for illness, injury or quarantine may be paid from 15 weeks to 50 weeks.
These are the Bloc Québécois bills that are being examined and that are designed to correct what has been done to the employment insurance system in recent years. As a result of the changes that have been made, close to 60% of unemployed people are currently excluded from the employment insurance system.
The employment insurance program is a measure supposed to prevent people from growing poor or even living in misery as they lose their job. However, it is not what is happening right now. In committee, with my colleagues who spoke earlier, we are studying the question of poverty. Different witnesses give us their opinions on this subject.
For example, this morning, we heard the following national and pan-Canadian groups: the group for the abolition of poverty, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Citizens for Public Justice. These are the most important groups. They have a lot of expertise on the state of poverty. And, as far as measures to fight poverty are concerned, employment insurance is at the top on their list.
Poverty exists because there are impoverishment factors, and one of the factors which makes it now more difficult to get out of poverty is the fact that close to 60% of the workers who lose their job are being excluded and are not entitled to EI benefits.
I will conclude by reminding the House that we will vote in favour of Bill C-279 because delaying employment insurance because the employee is still owed some last amounts is simply unfair.
I encourage my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-279.