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.


Alexandre Boulerice  NDP

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


Defeated, as of May 9, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)


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.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


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 CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2017 / 11:50 a.m.
See context


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a very real pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-345. I would like to salute my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for bringing forth the legislation. As a father of young children, I certainly know intimately how important it is to have comprehensive parental benefits. I have the privilege of representing an amazing riding which, particularly in the south end of the city of Langford, is seeing explosive growth at the moment, particularly with families with young children. When I go to my constituents and explain to them the benefits that are contained in the legislation, I know that will resonate very much with constituents, particularly in Langford but indeed all across this country.

This enactment would amend the Canada Labour Code to authorize the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to enter into an agreement with the government of a province that would provide for the application, to pregnant or nursing employees, of certain provisions of the provincial legislation concerning occupational health and safety. The bill would also require the minister to prepare a report on the agreements and to cause that report to be laid before Parliament. As someone who feels very strongly about the role of parliamentary oversight on the functions of the executive, I think it is a fantastic way for members of Parliament to keep track of how the executive is doing on its particular programs.

Just to go into a bit more detail, certain provisions would provide the better of the protection between provincial and federal protection to pregnant and nursing employees. It would ensure that women receive the best benefits possible before the child is born and during the breastfeeding period. Bill C-345 could protect women in high-risk work environments, and it would also motivate employers to adapt jobs in order to keep pregnant and nursing employees in the labour force.

Just on those two points, I am home to a riding that has a lot of industries where there are high-risk environments. The bill would elevate the value of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding to the level that our society needs to place on those functions. In bringing forth much-needed equality in our society, we as a society, as a government, and as employers have to put value on those all-important functions of raising the next generation of our children, ensure the supports are there for women, and ensure that everything we do is looked at through that lens of equality.

The bill would put forth an amenable means of delivering the best-possible care to women by giving the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour the ability to consult with provincial governments in order to decide whether the provincial or federal maternal benefits package would better suit constituents on a province-by-province basis. That is an ideal situation. Often, with many different programs, because of that federal-provincial jurisdictional divide that we have, we can end up with a patchwork quilt. I look no further than what happens with benefits that are given under access to justice, particularly with legal aid. We are studying that issue right now in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and certainly we do see a patchwork quilt. It is unfortunate that the types of benefits people receive are dependent on where they live in this great country of ours.

Finally, Bill C-345 would be able to provide equal pregnancy benefits to all pregnant and nursing employees across a given province once an agreement is reached between the provincial or territorial government and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, regardless of whether the employee's job falls under federal or provincial jurisdiction.

In the previous Parliament, my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, in the 41st Parliament, introduced similar measures, and that is why he made that reference in his speech. It was Bill C-307. While it is unfortunate that Bill C-307 was struck down at its second reading in the previous Parliament, I am glad to see my colleague continuing this fight with Bill C-345. Bill C-345 would expand on the goal of Bill C-307 by allowing pregnant employees and nursing employees to benefit from better programs between the provincial and federal maternity coverage if an agreement has been reached between the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and a provincial or territorial government.

It also does the all-important thing of streamlining the bureaucratic process to allow employee access to maternity benefits. A great example is the Province of Quebec. I believe it has one of the most comprehensive pregnancy protection plans in Canada. It is certainly something that we can look to as an example.

Ultimately, our goal with the legislation is to better protect nursing or pregnant employees from losing their wages, as well as provide equal protection for all women within a given province or territory with respect to receiving benefits during pregnancy and the breastfeeding period. Many labour organizations that represent thousands of employees across Canada have indicated their support, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, CUPE, PSAC, and CHRC. They have indicated that this is an ideal piece of legislation, and that the House should be supporting it.

From some of the statistics, we know that paid parental leave can be very important for the individual and for society as a whole. A 2011 study done by researchers from Canada and the United States shows how paid parental leave can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10%. Another study found that children were 25% and 22% more likely to get measles and polio vaccines, respectively, when their mother had access to paid maternity leave.

Women who have a protected job and paid leave after birth report fewer depressive symptoms, a reduction in severe depression, and an improvement in overall mental health. If we, as a society, are to place that importance on the health of the mother, I think these are important statistics to be looking at. This is not just with respect to slightly after giving birth; women who have parental leave are much less likely to suffer from depression 30 years on, and so forth.

If we look at single parent households, they are disproportionately negatively affected by the loss of income resulting from parents being unable to continue their position due to pregnancy. Statistics Canada estimates that there were 1,404,010 single parent families in Canada in 2016. These families earned a median household income of $41,780. If we go back to the much-hyped middle-class tax cut that the Liberal government brought in, that actually falls below what those families would have to earn in order to qualify. That is the position that we, in the NDP, have been making all this time. So many of these families fall below the qualifying income level and do not receive the benefits given by that tax cut, it is not really fair to call it a middle-class tax cut at all. I think that is something that all hon. members in the House need to be reminded of.

If the bill is adopted and a province decides to make a program available, which is better than the current federal provision, or if a province improves an existing program, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour has the ability to contract a new agreement or amend the existing agreement to include the newly created benefits. I think it is important to highlight that the legislation would allow the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour that flexibility, with the goal of improving benefits for a pregnant or breastfeeding mother. Going back to what I said in my introduction, this is about placing value on that so that we, as a society, can move forward with the best possible programs.

Bill C-345 conveys our belief, especially in the NDP, that it is essential to protect the rights of women in the workplace, and that pregnant and nursing women should not lose their wages because their work is unsafe. It also promotes the idea that women should not have to choose between risking their child's health or continuing to work and losing wages to protect themselves.

I will just conclude that this also needs to be put in the context of what we do for a national child care plan as well. I heard multiple times, on the doorsteps in the last election, that parents are facing that crunch. Often, we have cases where a women has to abandon her career to raise a child.

When they have that child, because of a lack of affordable spaces or no spaces in the first place, they cannot afford to get a job or a second job because it does not pay enough. There is no room for a family to advance itself through the traditional ways.

The bill places that value on child birth, on breast feeding, which we so desperately need in our society. I would like to thank my colleague for bringing the bill forward. I would be happy to give my support when we have a vote on it.

Bill C-243--Employment Insurance ActPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 23rd, 2016 / 3:20 p.m.
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Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to contribute arguments as to why my private member's bill, Bill C-243, would not infringe upon the financial initiative of the crown and therefore would not require a royal recommendation.

I appreciate the time of this House to present these arguments. As you know, Mr. Speaker, this is the only opportunity I have to do it, and I have to do it orally to get it on the record, so I apologize in advance for the time it will take to do that.

I want to begin by outlining exactly what my bill would do.

The first part would provide for the development of a national maternity assistance program, and the second part would amend section 22 of the Employment Insurance Act to expand the window of time in which existing maternity benefits could be taken if a woman worked in a hazardous job that posed a risk to her maternal health. Specifically, it would allow women to begin taking their 15 weeks of maternity benefits 15 weeks prior to the due date, rather than just eight weeks prior, as the current rules allow.

The argument I am putting forward today will focus on addressing the amendments to the Employment Insurance Act under part 2 of the bill. I will show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

My argument has two parts, and I will be citing both academic literature, in particular by Lukyniuk and Keyes in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, as well as relevant parliamentary precedent.

First, I will briefly show that Bill C-243 would not increase or change the total benefits an individual is entitled to and therefore would not constitute a new and distinct expenditure.

Second, I will show that these changes would not substantively alter the objects or purposes of maternity benefits. In other words, I will be arguing that it would not create or envision a new function.

The first thing to note is that there is a general authorization for EI expenditures that is sufficiently broad to encompass the provisions of the bill. To illustrate this, consider the comment on royal recommendations from Keyes, 1999, on page 19: amending bill that merely re-enacts or consolidates existing expenditure provisions does not require the recommendation.

The provisions contained in Bill C-243 would simply reallocate or shift existing maternity benefits, which are already authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. As such, the changes would fall within the purview of a royal recommendation, which provides for the general authorization of EI expenditures.

Allow me to further explain, with reference to specific examples, why this modest shifting of benefits would not introduce new and distinct expenditures. There are four elements that must be considered to substantiate this claim.

The first obvious point is that the bill would not increase the amount of benefits paid to an individual. Since the amount an individual is entitled to per week would not change, there is no concern that it would affect estimates or payments from the consolidated revenue fund.

This differentiates Bill C-243 from other private members' bills that were deemed to require a royal recommendation, such as past bills C-278 and C-279.

Second, Bill C-243 would not increase the benefit period or the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim. Eligible recipients would still only be entitled to 15 weeks of maternity benefits. The only difference would relate to the window of time in which these benefits could be taken. I want to be very clear that this would be the only change.

In this way, Bill C-243 could be differentiated from several other bills, such as Bill C-278, which sought to increase EI sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks.

Third, Bill C-243 would not change the eligibility requirements such that more individuals would become eligible for EI.

Whereas bills C-279, C-265, and C-280 would have changed the qualification requirements, and thus expanded how many people could access benefits, Bill C-243 would not do this.

For example, in the case of Bill C-279, the Speaker explained that:

...more individuals would be eligible to receive EI benefits and those currently eligible would receive increased benefits.

Fourth, since Bill C-243 would simply shift existing entitlements, the only costs associated with this legislation would be administrative, and it has been well established in previous rulings that these administrative costs would not require spending for a new function. Instead, they would be operational costs that are part of the department's ongoing mandate. As such, they have constantly been ruled as not requiring a new royal recommendation.

To summarize my argument that spending under this bill is not new and distinct, I want to quote Keyes, 1997, who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not for “Provisions authorizing charges that are already or were previously authorized by Parliament, for example, a bill consolidating or revising existing legislation or authorizing spending for a particular group of people already covered under general legislation”.

In fact, that is exactly what this bill does. It authorizes spending for a particular group of people, women working in hazardous jobs, who are already covered under general legislation, in this case, the Employment Insurance Act. While Bill C-243 does shift the window of time for when an individual can receive maternity benefits, it must be understood that these are benefits that many women are already entitled to. They are not new and distinct.

I will now concentrate on the second reason why my bill might require royal recommendation, which is whether or not it fundamentally changes the objects or purposes of the spending. In other words, does the bill envision a new function for maternity benefits? The central question on which you will have to rule, Mr. Speaker, is whether El maternity benefits are currently intended to protect the health of the mother and her unborn child. If this function exists under the current spending regime, my bill would not require royal recommendation, as it simply shifts existing benefits in a manner consistent with the existing purpose.

I will present several arguments to show that maternal health is one of the functions, if not the primary function, of maternity benefits. I will begin by noting that while we are tasked with determining the purpose of El maternity benefits, the actual enabling legislation, the Employment Insurance Act, says nothing explicitly on this issue. As such, to make this determination we will be required to make reasonable inferences based on other factors, including the eligibility criteria, their practical usage, and indeed a common sense understanding.

Let us consider the purpose and eligibility criteria of maternity benefits, according to the departmental website. It states, “A maximum of 15 weeks of El maternity benefits is available. The 15 weeks can start as early as eight weeks before the expected date of birth, and can end as late as 17 weeks after the actual date of birth.”

My central argument is that protecting maternal health is a function of maternity benefits under the existing legislation and usage. That is why my bill, which touches directly on this function through existing entitlements, cannot be considered to be creating a new function. The function already exists.

The fact that applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits. The legislation may not explicitly recognize this, or any purposes of maternity benefits, but I believe the interpretation and the spirit of the law confirm this understanding.

Legal analysis of the existing provisions is valuable, but should be complemented by a practical understanding of the benefits. In other words, it is not just my opinion that maternity benefits can be interpreted as having a maternal health function, but this is exactly how the benefits are being used.

Melodie Ballard, a constituent from my riding, is one of the many Canadians who chose to access their maternity benefits early because their job posed a risk to their health and that of their unborn child. This is not only allowed under the current rules, but in fact, it is one of the main reasons why benefits can be taken eight weeks before the birth. All Bill C-243 does is emphasize one of the existing purposes and practical usages of maternity benefits. That is it.

To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that this is the only function of maternity benefits, or the only reason that the legislation permits pre-confinement access. Indeed, maternity benefits can be taken after the birth, and in that sense they are also intended to provide a recovery period for the mother after childbirth. The key point is that maternity benefits should not be so narrowly interpreted as to exclude the function of maternal health, given the structure of the benefits and how they are practically used.

I will now present statements as to why my argument that employment insurance, and in particular maternity benefits, do serve the purpose of supporting a healthy pregnancy. To begin, consider this statement from the director general of El who, when she appeared before the HUMA committee on May 8, 2014 said, “Maternity benefits provide income support for a 15-week period surrounding childbirth to allow recovery from physical or emotional effects of the pregnancy and childbirth.”

It is clear from this statement that maternity benefits are used to support maternal health during pregnancy. Perhaps more specifically, Mr. Speaker, you will have to answer whether maternity benefits serve the purpose of protecting the mother when her job poses a risk to her health, or to that of her unborn child.

In other words, do El maternity benefits serve a similar purpose to the preventative withdrawal program that exists in Quebec? This is a topic that has actually been discussed during debates in this House, in particular on past private members' bills, Bill C-380 and Bill C-307.

I would refer to a contribution from the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame on May 3, 2012, “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.”

That sort of statement makes my argument quite succinctly and coherently.

A similar explanation for how employment insurance benefits are used for the purpose of protecting the mother and unborn child were put forward in this House on October 17, 2005, by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour and Housing at the time, “women under federal jurisdiction, if they must take leave, have access to employment insurance”.

The understanding that maternity benefits are an income support during a period of preventative withdrawal was corroborated by multiple members during debate proceedings on both Bill C-307 and Bill C-380.

In addition to members of Parliament, this understanding of El has been affirmed by departmental officials as well. When asked during the HUMA committee on October 22, 2003, about whether Canada had a system of preventative withdrawal, the Director of Labour Standards and Workplace Equity responded:

Where the job has been determined to be dangerous, the employer has an obligation to attempt to reassign her to work that is not unsafe for either the unborn child or the nursing child. If it's not possible or not reasonably practicable for the employer to reassign that individual, then she is entitled to leave without pay. What would happen under those circumstances is that she would take advantage of the employment insurance program...

It is clear that the employment insurance system, in particular the eight weeks of pre-birth maternity benefits, are an integral part to supporting women who choose to leave their job due to hazardous conditions.

Even though some statements do not mention maternity benefits explicitly, it is clear that this is the main form of El that would apply in these cases.

The final point I will make is to clarify that this bill does not affect any other type of El benefits, in particular parental or sickness benefits. Parental benefits would still only be able to be taken after confinement, which is in keeping with their purpose.

One might also think that protection of the expectant mother better falls under the category of sickness benefits. In fact, this is a very common misconception of sickness benefits. The reality is that sickness benefits can only be accessed if the individual is sick, not if there is a risk to their maternal health. Unlike maternity benefits, they cannot be taken for the purpose of protecting the health of the mother and the unborn child from the risks of a hazardous work environment.

Let me be clear, eight of the 15 weeks of maternity benefits can and are frequently being used for that purpose. As this function and purpose is well-established, my bill cannot be said to be creating a new function.

To conclude, the intent of my bill is simply to emphasize an existing function of maternity benefits, maternal health, for those who need it most, women working in hazardous jobs.

There is a royal recommendation that exists for spending on maternity benefits. There is no doubt that this bill would affect the manner in which that spending is done.

The central question is, does my bill shift spending in a manner that departs from the original purpose of maternity benefits? Put another way, does protection of the women's maternal health fall outside of the purpose of maternity benefits? I submit to you that it does not.

In closing, I will draw your attention to Keyes 1997 who argued on page 20 that royal recommendation is not required for cases where the bill authorizes spending for similar functions where “Provisions imposing additional functions on publicly funded bodies if the functions are of the same nature as their existing functions or are conferred for similar purposes.”

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
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Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to wish everyone a happy International Women's Day. I would like to encourage all parliamentarians in the House to continue fighting for women's rights. We unfortunately have a Conservative government that views the struggle for women's rights as an advertising campaign, but we must nevertheless work together to take real action.

I am very pleased this afternoon to speak to the bill of my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes, which amends the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act to correct the injustice done to parents in the case of multiple births and adoptions. I want to thank her for her excellent work with families.

We have heard Conservative members say at length that parental leave can be improved in Canada. Before going any further, I would like to compare the parental leave offered in Canada with that offered in other jurisdictions elsewhere in the world.

In Canada, parents are entitled to 35 weeks at 65% of their salary, to a maximum of $501 a week. In Sweden, parents are entitled to 47 weeks at full salary or 69 weeks of leave at 80% of their salary. In Norway, parents are entitled to 44 weeks at full salary and those in Germany are entitled to 47 weeks at full salary. It is therefore entirely possible to improve this program, as my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes is trying to do.

The Canada Labour Code currently draws no distinction between cases involving single or multiple births or adoptions. Parental leave in both cases is 35 weeks. That leave may be taken entirely by a single parent or by both parents, simultaneously or consecutively. Parents of twins and triplets are doubly in need of a break.

The bill amends the Canada Labour Code to increase the amount of leave to a maximum of 72 weeks in cases of multiple births or adoptions. It also amends the Employment Insurance Act to increase the maximum number of weeks during which parental benefits may be paid in the case of multiple births or adoptions to 70.

While the birth of a child is a joyful occasion, it is important to recognize that parents of multiple births face increased physical, financial and psychosocial stresses. Having a child—especially in today's world, where both partners usually have to work and grandparents often live in another city—requires a lot of time and effort from parents. Of course, when it is a multiple birth or multiple adoption, parents' responsibilities increase exponentially.

It is unfortunate that the Canada Labour Code and the employment insurance system do not take this simple reality into account. I am sure everyone would agree that it takes more hands and more energy to care for two children than just one. There are two mouths to feed and twice as many diapers to change. There is twice as much care to give and, often, half as much sleep for parents.

It is important to also recognize that multiple births often lead to medical complications. In particular, twins are often born prematurely, and mothers who give birth to twins often have to stay longer in hospital in order to avoid fatigue and other health problems.

Like my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes, I believe it is important to provide the parents of multiple births with more support. They need to be given enough time to deal with the challenges associated with a multiple birth.

As we all know, it was a couple from Ottawa who ignited the spark that led to this bill. They have been fighting in the courts since 2009. Christian Martin and his wife, Paula Critchley, both applied for 35 weeks of parental leave, or 70 weeks in total, when their twin daughters, Lucie and Athena, were born in April 2009.

The couple argued that since parents of children born a year apart are entitled to two 35-week periods of parental leave, parents of twins should receive the same privileges.

In September 2009, the Canada Employment Insurance Commission agreed with them. Christian Martin was given 35 weeks of parental leave and his partner was also given 35 weeks—one parental leave per child. However, an umpire and a federal court judge overturned the decision because the Employment Insurance Act allows for 35 weeks of parental leave for care given to one or more children resulting from the same pregnancy.

Now Christian and Paula want to take their case to the Supreme Court. They feel that the Employment Insurance Act violates the right to equality set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We will see what will happen with this case, which is so important for families, but I think we could solve the problem right now by passing Bill C-464, which is before the House this afternoon.

It is even more important that we pass this bill because the number of multiple pregnancies is constantly climbing. In Canada, the explosion in the number of multiple births in the last 30 years is consistent with that found in the rest of the developed world. Between 1974 and 1990, birth of twins has risen 35% per 100,000 successful pregnancies. Over the same period, the incidence of triplets and higher order multiple births has increased over 250%. In Quebec in 1980, there was one twin birth for every 54 births. In 2010, that number has risen to one twin birth for every 33 births. The number of births from multiple pregnancies is going to rise even more because more people are using assisted reproductive technology.

I would also like to remind my colleagues that the cost of this bill is reasonable. The parliamentary officer recently reviewed his first estimate and determined that extending the parental benefits period under the employment insurance system would benefit 6,700 families a year, for an initial annual cost of approximately $40 million.

I was quite shocked to learn that the Conservatives are opposed to this bill when they claim to want to help families. The Conservatives like to boast about their measures that are supposed to help families, but in reality, they are abandoning many parents. For example, in 2007, they implemented a children's fitness tax credit. It certainly made for nice photo ops during the election campaign. However, what they did not say was that the tax credit mainly helped wealthy families who had enough money to register their children in organized activities. People had to spend $1,000 to get a $150 credit. Of course, I am not against encouraging young people to play sports. However, I would simply like to point out that the government is doing little bits here and there just to try to win votes and, if it would get its priorities straight, it would not have any difficulty finding the $40 million needed for this bill.

I would also like to remind hon. members that the Conservatives opposed another NDP bill that would have helped Canadian families by improving pregnant women's access to healthy and safe working environments. On May 9, 2012, they opposed Bill C-307, which was introduced by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This bill proposed amending the Canada Labour Code in order to allow female workers to avail themselves of the provisions of provincial legislation regarding preventive withdrawal when those provisions are more beneficial. This is another example of the Conservatives betraying families.

In my opinion, Bill C-464 is a good investment because it allows parents to get back on their feet after a multiple pregnancy and ensures that the newborns get a good start in life by giving parents more time to look after them.

In closing, I would like to point out that my colleague's bill is supported by Multiple Births Canada, an organization that advocates for the equality of parents of multiples, and by many other organizations. I hope that the Conservatives will not miss this new opportunity to prove that they have not completely abandoned Quebec families and that, in the end, they will support this bill. This bill must be sent to committee so that we can hear from Canadian parents and the organizations that represent them.

Helping Families in Need ActGovernment Orders

September 27th, 2012 / 1:20 p.m.
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Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.

I will begin by stating that I will be supporting Bill C-44. Perhaps some of my colleagues have children, and they know as well as I do that the most difficult thing in the world is to watch their child suffer or to learn that their child has suffered. I do not even want to imagine what a parent goes through when their child disappears or dies as a result of a crime. It is far too painful. A mother or father never recovers from such a blow, and it must take a long time for the pain to subside even a little. I still think of my grandparents, who died 25 or 30 years ago, and that is nothing compared to the loss of a child.

Bill C-44 will allow parents who go through such turmoil and grief to take the time to heal a little before returning to work. It will also prevent them from suffering serious financial difficulties in the meantime. Parents of a seriously ill child will be able to take the time to be with their child during that difficult period. When my children were young, one of them played baseball with a young boy whose younger brother had a serious illness. The little brother was about five years old. He was being treated and often stayed in hospital. You do not leave a five-year-old child alone in the hospital. Both parents had used up their holidays and other leave, but the illness obviously did not go away by the time they had exhausted their leave. They had to ask for unpaid leave. Their finances suffered and they were afraid of losing their jobs. That is exactly the kind of family that could have benefited from leave with benefits.

Helping parents in such a way is an excellent initiative. However, I find it somewhat maddening that the Conservative government is prepared to amend the Canada Labour Code to help one group of parents but not another. When the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie wanted to bring changes to the same code to protect pregnant or nursing women, the Conservatives slammed the door in his face. This really smacks of partisanship and cynicism. The purpose of his bill was to prevent miscarriages and health problems in newborns by ensuring that pregnant and nursing women whose jobs fall under Canada Labour Code jurisdiction were not subject to dangerous situations at work.

Why show kindness and common sense to one group of parents, but not to another, when in both cases, we are talking about the life of a child or unborn child? The trauma is similar. It makes absolutely no sense. The only plausible answer to my question is that Bill C-44, which we are discussing today, was introduced by a Conservative minister, while Bill C-307, which sought to compensate and protect pregnant women and their unborn children, came from an NDP member. Is that what the Conservatives call democracy now that they have a majority? The public will remember that come 2015.

There is another problem. Just a year ago, when the Conservatives promised the public that it would help parents of murdered, missing or seriously ill children, they also promised to do so out of general revenues. That is what Bill C-44 proposes in the first two cases, but not in the third. Benefits for parents of sick children will be taken from the employment insurance fund. Why do I see a problem with that? There are many reasons.

First, the employment insurance fund has a deficit of $9 billion. Second, employment insurance money is supposed to be a safety net for unemployed workers. Third, once again, the Conservatives did not do what they said they would do.

Let us talk about my first point: the employment insurance fund has a deficit of $9 billion. The anthropologist in me would like to give a quick history lesson. In the 1990s, under a Liberal government, the state stopped funding employment insurance. Instead of having three contributors to the fund—the worker, the employer and the state—there were only two contributors, the worker and the employer. So the pot was already shrinking.

In the late 1990s, the Liberals took money that had been set aside for workers and rolled it into the general revenue fund to balance the budget. That money did not belong to the government because, as I just said, it had been contributed to the fund by workers and employers.

When the Conservatives came to power, they continued to chip away at the employment insurance fund. What a surprise it was when recently, there was no more money in the fund to pay claimants. The government had to increase workers' and employers' premiums. That is not fair. People paid for that insurance for years, and then they were told there was no more money and they would have to pay more if they wanted the benefits to which they were entitled.

If a private investor takes off with our savings, we call foul, but is it any different when the government does the same thing?

Second, I mentioned that the employment insurance fund is supposed to be a safety net for workers who lose their jobs. That is why it is called “insurance”. Maybe we should stop calling it “employment insurance” and start calling it “unemployment insurance” like in the old days because it is insurance against unemployment, not for or against employment.

The money in the fund comes from workers and employers and should be used when a person loses his job and has a hard time finding another one, or when the nature of his work does not make it possible for him to work all year long. Everyone knows what I am referring to because we have been talking about seasonal workers a lot lately.

This fund could be used to address a number of other problems directly related to employment. For example, over the years, my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, who was the NDP employment insurance critic, made dozens of proposals to expand the scope of the program. Less than four out of 10 unemployed people receive employment insurance benefits. This shows that there is a fundamental problem with the system. The money in the fund should be used to address these problems.

Benefits for parents of sick children should come from general revenues—as per the Conservatives' election promise—and not the employment insurance fund.

All the money pillaged from the employment insurance fund—$54 billion—could and should be used today to help workers affected by the latest economic crisis, those workers who recently lost their jobs as a result of all the Conservative government cuts. There are 300,000 more unemployed people today than before the 2008 crash.

To conclude, I support Bill C-44 because it supports parents going through painful times, and who should not have to add financial problems to their stress. However, I would like to ask the minister to keep the promises made by her party to use general revenues and not the employment insurance fund to cover these measures. I would also like to ask her to consult Canadians in order to learn about the real problems faced by thousands of unemployed people, in order to make reforms to the system that will make it fair for everyone. I can assure her that she will have the complete co-operation of the NDP for such a project.

Finally, I would also like to ask the government to show as much compassion for the parents of children who have disappeared in circumstances that are not related to a crime and also to caregivers who find it difficult to survive on the meagre resources currently provided by governments, as requested by the Canadian Palliative Care Association.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

May 9th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-307 under private members' business.

The House resumed from May 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
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Alexandre Boulerice NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:50 p.m.
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Mylène Freeman NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
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Mylène Freeman NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
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Laurin Liu NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2012 / 6 p.m.
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Scott Simms Liberal 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.

The House resumed from December 13, 2011 consideration of the motion that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Old Age SecurityPrivate Members' Business

March 26th, 2012 / 11:35 a.m.
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Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to have an opportunity to speak to Motion No. 307 today. I will read it for anyone who may have just tuned in and is not aware of the full context of my colleague's motion.

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the contributions that the baby boom generation has made in building Canada; (b) affirm its support for the Old Age Security program; (c) commit to maintaining the sixty-five year qualifying age contained in section 3 of the Old Age Security Act; and (d) recognize that Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a program designed to help low income seniors, are inextricably linked and ensure that they continue to have identical ages of eligibility.

My colleague has introduced this motion to again showcase how important age 65 is to all of us as Canadians. It is not something that the government should be looking at easily tinkering with. I also want to thank him for his kind words and for his ongoing support and leadership in protecting OAS, GIS and seniors in general. This member was first elected just over a year ago. He has spent a good portion of that time fighting for seniors and baby boomers in Prince Edward Island and throughout Canada. I wish that the government would show the same kind of sensitivity.

We are going to give it one more chance with another motion that we are hoping will, somehow, somewhere, get to the government's ear. We are asking the government to back off from the move it is making. I think it is reckless. There is absolutely no reason for it. We have found no one who can substantiate the need for it, especially given the fact that the Prime Minister made a commitment.

It is no wonder people are cynical. Politicians make all kinds of commitments that they are not going to change things, such as income trusts and pensions. Then when they get into office, they completely ignore those commitments. I think it is bad for all of us, and politics in general, when that happens.

Today will serve as the government's final warning on the subject. Seniors from all parts of Canada have spoken loudly through myself and all of us as elected officials, including government members. They are demanding that the Conservatives stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and baby boomers.

Despite a belief that the OAS benefits, such as the basic monthly pension, the guaranteed income supplement and the allowance, were secure and well beyond the opportunistic reach of government, we know these systems are vulnerable to any mean-spirited government. This is exactly what we are about to see on Thursday.

Slashing the OAS has been tried before. Conservative icon Brian Mulroney set his sights on seniors before abandoning the move in the face of overwhelming public pressure. That was his Charlie Brown moment, as it is often referred to. Knowing this, most Canadians were surprised when this Prime Minister, during his January 26 lecture to the World Economic Forum in Davos, signalled that he was considering major transformation to the OAS and GIS. Too bad he did not have the courage to tell people that last April when he reaffirmed his commitment to seeing that they would stay on.

I was very surprised, as many of us were, considering this particular Prime Minister campaigned, saying that Conservatives would not cut the rate of increase to transfers for health care, education and pensions, and that was job number one. Again, it just adds to the cynicism out there. I guess he hopes Canadians are not paying attention as he sticks his hands deep into the pockets of our seniors.

Canadians are paying attention. Earlier today Mr. Kessey wrote to my office. He said:

In my view, the politicians who want benefits to be moved to 67 years should try to vacate their office jobs and assume the duties of hard-working citizens such as construction workers, etc.

I agree with Mr. Kessey. I suspect most of us in the House do. As someone whose household made its living from construction for more than 40 years, perhaps I could lend the Prime Minister a set of work boots and gloves. I assume he does not have his own. He would find out what it is really like to go out and work in these hard jobs. Once people get to 65, their bodies are clearly paying the price for that. Never mind having to wait until 67.

Initially the government suggested that the OAS system was not economically sustainable when confronted by the economics presented by an aging population.

This is no surprise. We have known for years that we were going to have an aging population and we know the demographics.This is no surprise where the Prime Minister suddenly had a report on his desk to say, “Oh my goodness, we're heading for a disaster”. That is not the case at all.

It was further suggested by government that increasing the OAS qualifying age from 65 to 67 would reduce costs in the immediate term, allowing the system to withstand the increasing number of boomers in retirement. The government's already weak argument was then augmented with claims of intergenerational inequity. In the simplest terms possible, let me put it this way. The Conservatives were claiming that the costs of the OAS system would outpace the government's ability to pay and, even if it could afford the projected increases, the increased cost of supporting a growing pension system would be unfair to younger workers. This seems pretty rich given the fact that the Conservatives gave $6 billion to our large corporations, $30 billion or $35 billion is still being bantered around for untendered jets and another $1 billion went for fake lakes and glow sticks. Now the PM is demanding that Canada's lowest-income seniors tighten their belts. Setting aside the fact that the Cons promised not to cut the OAS and ignoring the fact that the Cons have spent money with little regard for prudence, their sustainability argument is nonsense.

Last month, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that the OAS is sustainable in the long term, even if enhanced. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed by the Prime Minister not by a Liberal government, in which case the Conservatives would have said there was something wrong with the individual. This Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed by the Prime Minister himself. He should have faith in his numbers. Instead, he cast them aside and said that his numbers are ridiculous and so is he. The Parliamentary Budget Officer also said the OAS is respectful of the concept of fairness and intergenerational equity. So it would appear as though the Conservatives are proposing to cut seniors' benefits not because they have to but because they want to. It is shameful. Fortunately, Bill C-307, if it passes the House, would help to prevent this from happening.

As a reminder of where all these wonderful programs came from, the OAS was first created by Liberal prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1927, because poverty in certain sectors of Canada's seniors' population had become rampant. Again in 1952, another Liberal prime minister, Louis St. Laurent, expanded the program because he felt it was unfair that the provinces were being saddled with the lion's share of the cost of combatting seniors' poverty. In 1967, Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson created the guaranteed income supplement, again to reduce the instances of extreme poverty among our seniors. None of us believe that Canadian seniors should be living in poverty. The Liberal governments have worked for many years to ensure it does not happen. The steps that are about to be taken on Thursday would unravel that and start to put people back into poverty. Rather than being so proud of our Canadians and how we lead the way in so many social programs, we are clearly going backwards.

In 1975, again a Liberal prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, created the spousal benefit, always with the intent that we would not have women and seniors living in poverty. So for 90 years, successive Liberal governments have worked to build and maintain an old age security pension that would ensure seniors could live with dignity; ensure the provinces did not have to deal with these issues alone which is again what we are doing, downloading more and more pressures onto the provinces; and show the world that Canada has a heart. Now I am getting letters from overseas asking what happened to Canada, saying that it has lost its heart and its moral compass on so many issues.

Past Liberals have always understood the need to help vulnerable people to be fiscally responsible. We have always done that. There is no reason whatsoever to do this, other than having a Prime Minister who clearly believes that the government's role is not to help people but to let them fend for themselves. That is not my Canada.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

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


Jean Crowder NDP 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.