moved that Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that this bill must be accepted by the current Conservative government. I begin my remarks with that comment because we have been talking about this for a long time. The two-week waiting period is a critical issue. This is not a minor bill designed to keep senators in the red chamber for a longer or shorter period of time. It is an act that can help all workers who lose their job.
That injustice has been around for too long. I am going to give some numbers. In 1989, 83% of Canadians and Quebeckers were eligible for employment insurance. Now, it is less than 50%.
What did the government do? It passed a law to add five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. And how many people benefit from this initiative? Currently, it applies to 28% of those who are eligible for EI benefits. However, 28% of 50% does not make for a large number of people. The fact is that few workers are entitled to these five additional weeks.
If the two-week waiting period was waived, all workers who lose their job would benefit. I am not talking about workers who resign or who lose their job because they failed to perform, but about workers who are laid off because their plant shut down, because there are fewer orders in the books, because the plant is relocated, or because of a bankruptcy. These people are laid off through no fault of their own. They are the most affected by these two weeks without benefits.
Waiving the two-week waiting period would have a much greater impact on financial security than the five additional weeks at the end of the benefit period. Indeed, this situation affects the most vulnerable workers in our society. The two-week waiting period is a glaring injustice: these people lose their job through no fault of their own, yet they are penalized. It seems as if the Conservative government likes to punish workers who get laid off. I just cannot understand that.
In Quebec, this situation puts pressure on the Quebec government when these people turn to social assistance. Social costs increase, even though the federal government is responsible for looking after those people who lose their job through no fault of their own.
There is an urgent need for action, but the government does not seem to understand that, and it would appear that the Conservatives are not going to let us get this bill passed. Abolishing the two-week waiting period would not mean extending the employment insurance benefit period. All it would do is allow people to receive their EI benefits two weeks earlier, so that they would not have to go without money for two weeks.
Often, people do not even know they are going to lose their jobs. They get a warning and lose their jobs the same week, because the employer did not want anyone to know in advance. What is more, most of the time, these people do not have any money set aside. They even have debts. Liberalism encouraged people to go into debt in an excess of consumerism.
These people are just like everyone else. Workers also have a culture of borrowing. Then, suddenly, they have no money coming in for two weeks, so they go deeper into debt and they cannot afford to pay the mortgage or rent or feed their families. It is that serious.
If the waiting period were eliminated and the five weeks at the end left intact, the cost to the EI system would not be much more. In any case, only 28% of people receive the five weeks of benefits at the end of the period. Presumably, everyone would receive the two weeks at the start.
These two weeks are a question of dignity for our workers. It is scandalous that people who lose their jobs cannot get help from employment insurance right away.
Does the government want to punish workers for losing their jobs? We have to wonder. We could even say that that is what the government is trying to do. It is trying to punish workers for losing their jobs through no fault of their own. They will have to spend two weeks without benefits.
Generally speaking, the government is not criticized very much. It thinks that, as with every type of insurance, a premium must be paid. However, employment insurance is not a public or private insurance. It is a social measure that should apply to everyone, and people should not be punished unfairly.
Unfortunately, this unfair punishment has been around since 1971, and it is high time to abolish it. The current government should realize that it will not be defeated tomorrow if it eliminates this injustice. On the contrary, we will appreciate it more.
This measure is supported by all Quebeckers and Canadians. Unions, community groups, women's groups, anti-poverty groups, food banks, retailers, all support this measure, except the people that the government consulted. These people include business leaders, economists, banks and probably some hand-picked professors, who are at the source of this neo-liberal ideology.
The Bloc Québécois believes that this bill is necessary. It should be looked on favourably by the government, and I am asking it to reconsider its position.