An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant and nursing employees)

Sponsor

Christine Moore  NDP

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of June 5, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-345.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada Labour Code to authorize the Minister of Labour to enter into an agreement with the government of a province that provides for the application, to pregnant or nursing employees, of certain provisions of the provincial legislation concerning occupational health and safety.

It also requires the Minister to prepare a report on the agreements and to cause the report to be laid before each House of Parliament.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

moved that Bill C-345, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant and nursing employees) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present an amended version of the bill that my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie introduced in the previous Parliament because I think this bill is very important for women's rights at work.

Many people do not understand the difference between preventive withdrawal for pregnant and nursing employees and parental leave programs. People may turn to employment insurance benefits when they are in a work situation that puts their pregnancy at risk, but preventive withdrawal is something completely different. Quebec legislation makes preventive withdrawal easier to understand.

Let me explain how it works for a Quebec worker under provincial jurisdiction to make sure everyone really understands.

When a worker feels that her work may put her pregnancy at risk, she requests a medical evaluation. If the evaluation indicates there is a risk, the worker must be reassigned to a less risky position or withdrawn from the workplace.

The priority really is to try to reassign the worker, because the employer must pay a certain amount of money if it decides to send the worker home. For instance, the employer has to pay for the first five days. When the worker can be reassigned somewhere with no risks involved, it is definitely better for the employer. This also means the worker can stay in the workplace and still remain safe.

Preventive withdrawal becomes necessary when the employer cannot adapt the workplace or the job. The woman stays home, because of the risk, and receives benefits that, in Quebec, are paid by the CSST, Quebec's workplace health and safety commission. Those benefits are paid as soon as the workplace poses a risk. For instance, if the employer cannot reassign a worker who is five weeks pregnant and whose job poses a risk to her pregnancy, she is given preventive withdrawal benefits. She can receive those benefits from the beginning of her pregnancy, thereby avoiding any harm to her fetus. I think it is important to understand this.

One important aspect of preventive withdrawal is that women are eligible from the very beginning of their pregnancy, as soon as there is a risk, unlike parental insurance programs, which only apply once the woman has reached a certain point in the pregnancy. It is important to understand that.

Under the existing legislation, if a woman with a high-risk pregnancy works in an area under federal jurisdiction or if she works in a province that does not offer benefits like the ones offered in Quebec, she is entitled to preventive withdrawal, but at her own expense. In that case, she will have no income for 20 weeks or several months. She does not have the right to benefits because her job falls under federal jurisdiction and she is not far enough along in her pregnancy to be eligible for employment insurance parental benefits.

As a result, these women end up in a situation where they have no income at all and they have to make very difficult choices regarding their pregnancy. They either have to choose to continue working, even though doing so will jeopardize their health and their pregnancy, exposing them to the risk of a miscarriage or birth defects, for example, or they can take leave and end up in a precarious financial situation where they do not have any income until they can claim EI parental benefits.

Quebeckers are very lucky when it comes to parental benefits. To be eligible, women must have earned $2,000 over the past 52 weeks. That means that most women have access to these benefits. In order to be eligible for the federal program, a woman has to have accumulated 600 hours. There is no guarantee that she will have accumulated the necessary hours, particularly if she chooses to stop working because it is too risky and she is not receiving any benefits or income during that time.

Many women are placed in a very difficult position, and there is a very simple way to fix that. The federal government could make an agreement with the provinces that have a better preventive withdrawal program for pregnant and nursing woman than it does. For example, the federal government could make an agreement with the Government of Quebec so that women in Quebec who fall under federal jurisdiction are entitled to the same benefits as every other woman in Quebec.

What benefits would these agreements provide? If every woman in a given province followed the same rules of preventive withdrawal it would make things much simpler. It would be much easier to communicate information, putting women in the same province on equal footing. That equality is especially important. It is outrageous that in a system like ours there are two classes of women depending on whether their employer falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction. That situation could be resolved through these agreements.

Under the bill, provincial legislation must to be better than Canada Labour Code provisions for federal employees. That is not so hard to achieve considering that currently under the Canada Labour Code an employee is entitled to preventive withdrawal, but at her own expense. Other provinces might choose to introduce preventive withdrawal programs and the government could enter into an agreement with those provinces.

Alberta currently has an NDP government, a progressive government, and it is in a position to choose to act on this situation. British Columbia is going to have a coalition government between the NDP and the Green Party. Again, it can choose to act on this situation. If so, the federal government could enter into an agreement to provide measures that would help all the women in those provinces.

Preventive withdrawal is about the work and not the worker. Take for example the woman who has three part-time jobs and wants preventive withdrawal. If she can continue working at two of her jobs, she will get benefits only for the job she is no longer able to do, and she can withdraw only from that job if she cannot be reassigned.

This also has an advantage when we are dealing with preventive withdrawal. In the case of parental insurance programs, when we choose to take the weeks we are entitled to earlier, while continuing to hold both jobs we are able to do, those amounts are deducted from our benefits. It is therefore not very advantageous to do that, because there will be cuts to the amounts of money, and since those weeks have been used, they cannot be recovered. It is more advantageous to take that time to rest. Where there is no preventive withdrawal associated with the work, this requires that the worker leave all her jobs, even if only one of them is problematic.

Because this is associated with the work, it is not the employee’s health that counts, it is the work, regardless of the conditions. What is done is really an analysis based on the work. The question is whether any pregnant woman would run a risk if she did that work. If the answer is yes, then an effort is made to find a solution, whether by relocating her or by paying her benefits.

This is a fairly simple bill. A few minor corrections have been made to it. There is also the addition of a report, because I think it is important that the federal government be accountable to the House, that it say what the status of the agreements is, and that it show what it has done, in concrete terms, and how things have progressed.

Because this is a bill that could help women who are under federal jurisdiction, it is important to act quickly. The choice these women have to make is entirely impossible to live with: they can go back home, with no income and no consequence for their employment, and have access to parental insurance, but only after a few months. They therefore go back home with no income. The other option is to continue working, with the risks that entails for their pregnancy and for the fetus, in order to continue to earn a living.

Obviously, when there is another person in the couple to help, the decision may be a little easier to make, but we must not forget women who are on their own to deal with their pregnancy. In those cases, we can say that they have no source of income during a crucial time, precisely when they need money to start buying things to prepare for the baby's arrival, to eat well, and to stay healthy. What we have, in both cases, is a situation where the woman’s health is in jeopardy, whether because she has no income and her status is precarious, or because her work presents a risk. This is a situation that would be impossible to live with, particularly if we consider cases where, for example, a woman might have worked for ten years before becoming pregnant.

Mr. Speaker, I know that you cannot become pregnant, but try to put yourself in the shoes of these women. Imagine that a woman has tried for 10 years to have a baby; she finally becomes pregnant, and she discovers that she is not entitled to any benefits, when she was sure she was entitled and all her friends were entitled. In Quebec, for example, there is the CSST, the occupational health and safety commission, so the woman in question was certain she was covered, and that if there was a risk to her pregnancy, she would be eligible for benefits. Suddenly, she learns that she is not, because she under federal jurisdiction, and that if she wants preventive withdrawal, she will have to pay for it. These situations really are impossible to live with.

It would be easy for the federal government to take action. All it has to do is enter into an agreement with the provinces so that women in those provinces working under federal jurisdiction are eligible for provincial benefits. We can sort out the paperwork afterwards. Relatively few women would be affected, but the issue is important enough that action should be taken on this. About 5% of employees in a province are under federal jurisdiction. Of that 5%, about half are women. Obviously, not everyone is pregnant at the same time. The number is further reduced based on the number of women working high-risk jobs. For example, office employees who are under federal jurisdiction will not be affected, because their jobs do not involve risk. They do not need benefits for preventive withdrawal.

I will conclude by saying that I believe this is an important subject. It is time to give every woman, in every province, the same rights in matters of preventive withdrawal. It is entirely reasonable for the federal government to take action. The Prime Minister has said several times that he identifies as a feminist.

I believe this is a good bill that will initiate concrete action to help women who might find themselves in very precarious situations. I hope that we will back up our words with action and that we will try to advance the rights of women, and in particular of women in Quebec.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2017 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my great riding of Saint John—Rothesay, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to speak about the proposed legislation to amend the Canada Labour Code with regard to preventive withdrawal provisions for federally related workers who are pregnant or nursing. This is known in the House as Bill C-345.

The bill would add a new section to part II of the Canada Labour Code to allow the minister to enter into agreements with the provincial government to give pregnant or nursing employees under federal jurisdiction access to certain provisions of provincial health and safety legislation. The Canada Labour Code currently contains provisions that allow a pregnant or nursing employee to be reassigned, or have her job modified without loss of pay or benefits if there is a risk to her health, the fetus, or the child. If a reassignment is not possible, the woman may take a leave of absence for the duration of the risk.

Labour code job protection for maternity leave varies across the country. Bill C-345 proposes that the federal government enter into agreements with provinces that have provisions related to preventive withdrawals that are at least as favourable to the employee as those in the federal legislation. Currently only Quebec specifically offers preventive withdrawal job protection with wage replacement for pregnant and nursing women.

In Quebec, if a pregnant or nursing employee must stop working because of a health risk to herself, her fetus, or her child, and if her employer is not able to reassign her to another job, this employee is entitled to a preventive withdrawal leave with wage replacement equivalent to 90% of net insurable earnings. The maximum annual insurable earnings are set at $67,500. Bill C-345 would represent a number of challenges which would have to be taken into consideration as we examine this proposed legislation. Among these challenges, applying provincial legislation to federally regulated workers in this area would create a situation where federally regulated employees working in Quebec would be treated differently than those in other provinces.

It is important to note that implementing Bill C-345 would involve increased costs to employers in Quebec, who could be required to pay additional premiums under Quebec's Commission de la Santé et de la Sécurité du travail. It is also worth mentioning that a review of Quebec's preventive withdrawal program in 2010 identified a number of concerns regarding its operation and scope, and recommended that the program be refocused on its original workplace health and safety objectives.

There are strong measures currently in place in the Canada Labour Code to protect pregnant and nursing employees. The government understands that at certain points in their lives, workers may also have to take time away from their jobs because of the circumstances or demands of their personal lives. Caring for a new child or providing care to a family member who is gravely ill are a couple of examples. This is when the employment insurance program helps eligible Canadians by providing the income support they need, allowing them to focus on what matters most. With budget 2017, we are helping working parents to better face the challenges that come with a growing family.

Budget 2017 proposes to make EI parental and maternity benefits more flexible. This is being received very well in my riding of Saint John—Rothesay. Parents would be able to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work, family, and child care circumstances. Under the changes, parents would have two options: receiving EI parental benefits over a period of up to 12 months at the existing benefit rate of 55% of their average weekly earnings, or over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. Parents would continue to be able to share these benefits. Budget 2017 provisions also propose allowing pregnant women to claim their EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, up from the previous eight weeks, if they so choose.

This additional flexibility would allow pregnant women to access EI maternity benefits and leave earlier than before. Again, in my riding, that change is going over very well.

I want to emphasize that these improvements were guided by last year's consultations on EI maternity, parental, and caregiver benefits. We held an online consultation, hosted round tables with stakeholders, and we sought their views in providing more flexible EI maternity and parental benefits, and leaves under the Canada Labour Code, as well as more inclusive caregiving benefits and leaves for Canadians who provide care to a family member.

It was essential for us to consult with all of our partners and stakeholders, especially Canadians directly. The reason is simple: amending the Employment Insurance Act is a complex endeavour, and we want to make sure that we do it right. The consultations with key partners were to help ensure that the program better responds to the needs of hard-working Canadian families.

In budget 2017, we have also proposed measures to help workers find the right balance between their work, family, and other personal responsibilities.

Amendments to the Canada Labour Code would ensure that federally regulated employees have the right to request flexible work arrangements, such as flexible start and finish times, as well as the ability to work from home. The amendments would also provide employees with new unpaid leaves for family responsibilities, the ability to participate in traditional indigenous practices, to seek care if they are the victim of family violence, and make bereavement leave more flexible.

In closing, our government is committed to supporting workers, and this starts with making sure that federally regulated workers are protected from harm in the workplace. Preventive withdrawal provisions in the Canada Labour Code emphasize work modifications in job reassignments so that women can continue to work in a safe environment. These provisions ensure that women can continue to participate in the labour force through the many measures put forward in our recent budget.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today and address the bill. Before I go on, I am sure I speak for all members when I say that our thoughts and prayers are very much with the British people as they grieve yet another terrorist attack this weekend, and certainly with the family and friends of the Canadian victim.

I want to congratulate the member who brought the bill forward. It is a bill our caucus is going to continue to study and review as we go forward and proceed to the second hour of debate. Certainly there are some important issues raised that we are very much aligned with in terms of supporting pregnant women, mothers, and families, but there are also some practical issues with the bill. Therefore, in my remarks today I would like to talk about some of those different questions and put those considerations on the table for members to draw on as we continue the debate on the bill.

Bill C-345 speaks of the issue of preventive withdrawal, the idea that a pregnant woman who finds she is in an employment situation that may create some risk to her well-being and the well-being of her unborn child may then ask to be reassigned, and if reassignment is not available, she may then need to leave the workplace for the period of time that she is pregnant. In the province of Quebec, under provincial jurisdiction, there is an ability to get paid leave during that time. In other jurisdictions and in the federally regulated workforce, it is possible for a woman to get that time out of the workforce, but she would not receive paid leave during that time.

How a woman in that situation might be able to access that time outside the workforce is an important question. As the mover of the bill rightly put forward, depending on the woman's financial circumstances, there might well be situations in which it would be difficult for her to leave the workforce, so she might remain in a dangerous workplace and take on additional dangers to herself and to her child as a result.

This is a legitimate and important question, and we need to engage with it and look for effective ways of solving it. There are probably a variety of ways of doing this. We can imagine different arrangements that would address that specific situation. Perhaps it could be a more targeted way that looked at those who clearly did not have the level of financial independence they would need to step out of the workforce for that period of time. There could be a range of different ways of addressing the issue.

The bill, in any event, does speak to the question of withdrawal from the workplace and the compensation that would be associated with that withdrawal when there is a risk to the health of the mother and her child.

However, there is another, separate issue, and this is where perhaps the problem arises. I mentioned the distinction between federally and provincially regulated labour forces. Many members will already know that in Canada, some workers are regulated at the provincial level and others are regulated at the federal level. Those different systems of regulation apply in different sectors. About 10% of the workforce across Canada is federally regulated. It is a minority, but it is still a fairly significant portion of the workforce.

On the issue of alignment, we can get into a situation where there can be, in the same place, different rules respecting labour certification, leave, and these kinds of things, depending on which sector one is a part of. People could live in the same city and the same neighbourhood, yet have a different set of labour laws apply to them because of the sector they happen to work in. To some people it may seem unfair that certain benefits are available to someone because they are regulated by a different jurisdiction, but it is a reality of the way labour is regulated in Canada. It is always going to be a reality. The only way to prevent it would be to have complete alignment across all jurisdictions, and that is never going to happen. This labour regulation reflects a reality of our constitution, the spheres of sovereignty that are given to both the provincial and federal governments separately.

There would be some new problems introduced if the federal government alone tried to achieve perfect alignment of labour rules even in this specific case in each province. If we were to have alignment within individual provinces of the rules that exist, for example, on an issue like preventive withdrawal, then we would have misalignment for federally regulated workers across the country, perhaps even working in the same company.

The member who moved the bill brought up an example in questions and comments that is quite illuminating for the point she talked about, and that is flight attendants. Flight attendants are workers who might seek to withdraw from the workplace during pregnancy because of fear of the impact that the job could have on their well-being and the well-being of their child. On the other hand, companies that employ flight attendants are working across different provincial jurisdictions. This is something that falls squarely into federal jurisdiction because it involves interprovincial transportation.

We would have a situation where flight attendants from Quebec might be working alongside flight attendants from Ontario, Manitoba, or other parts of the country and be subject to a completely different system with respect to the kinds of benefits that they were entitled to.

Although one might say that there is some perspective on fairness to assist them in which two women in the same city, in the same neighbourhood in Quebec, have different labour rules apply to them, one might also say that there is some unfairness if two women who work for the same company, with similar hours, similar situations, similar working conditions, have different rules apply to them because their home bases are located in different places, such as Ottawa and Gatineau.

These are important questions to consider while we look for ways to address this issue of preventive withdrawal to ensure that there is safety in the workplace for everyone and that pregnant women have an opportunity to take the steps they need to protect themselves and their child, while at the same time trying to ensure some degree of consistency and alignment within the federally regulated situation so that a company doing business in a federally regulated sector involved in interprovincial transportation would not have to have completely different structures for different employees in different parts of the country.

In the remaining time that I have, I want to mention a number of other measures that the government should be looking at with respect to supporting women as they have children.

One of those measures is a proposal that our leader put forward during our recent leadership race, which is to make parental leave tax free. This would be an important way of providing income support to families while they are dealing with the loss of income that is associated with being in a parental leave situation. Making parental leave tax free would not create an additional burden for the EI fund, so it would not result in higher payroll taxes. It would provide that benefit back to families but do so through a tax cut that would impact general revenue rather than the EI fund. That is a positive proposal that has come from our new leader and one that I hope the government will consider. We will be happy to applaud the government if it chooses to adopt it, because it is the kind of tax cut that would impact parents precisely in the kind of situation that we are talking about.

One of the other things that I heard a lot about from people in my riding during the election campaign is the need to increase the flexibility of parental leave, especially for those who might want to work a bit while on maternal or parental leave.

There was a time when there was a kind of binary choice. One was either at home with children or at work. Things like the Internet make it so much easier for people to work from home, maybe to take work files home, yet our system for parental leave has not appropriately caught up with that reality. If we made it easier and more flexible for people to work a bit at home while still collecting some of these benefits, it would be easier for them to continue to work a bit and have that balance between work and being at home.

These are some of the other things that the government needs to consider as we go forward, as we seek to modernize and improve the benefits we provide to parents and families.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

June 5th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise in the House to support this important bill from my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Bill C-345.

To a certain point, to a small extent, I feel this bill is my own, as Bill C-345 is a new and improved version of Bill C-307, which I had tabled in the previous parliament. No one should be surprised, then, to see me speak in favour of it, as it would raise standards and increase fairness, unlike what the previous Conservative Party MP declared. In particular, the bill is more in line with our values and stated positions, which are that society must strive to protect our children and support pregnant women.

It is often said that our children are society's greatest asset. Unfortunately, government decisions sometimes do not support that claim. Indeed, some pregnant women are forced to stay in a job that could jeopardize their own safety, that of their unborn child or that of a child who is already born and must be nursed.

Currently, women working in large federally regulated industries, most notably marine transportation, rail transportation, air transportation, telecommunications and aeronautics, make up about 10% to 15% of all workers in our society, which is a significant percentage. At this time, these individuals have access to almost nothing. However, there are time-tested provincial programs that can resolve the problem that I will discuss in a moment.

Under Quebec’s safe maternity experience program, if a pregnant woman has a position that requires her to lift very heavy objects, make repetitive movements, walk a lot or remain standing for long periods of time, she can go see her doctor and ask for a risk-assessment.

There are also those cases where chemical or hazardous products may be inhaled or come into contact with the skin, which could have an effect on the unborn child or on the mother’s milk, for example. If that worker sees her doctor and explains the situation, the doctor can assess the risk of the position. He could ask the employer to reassign the worker to another type of job that is less dangerous or that is better suited to her stage of pregnancy. We can agree that the risk changes throughout the nine months of a pregnancy. Obviously, I cannot testify to that personally, but that is what I have read and what I have heard.

The program works well, and it is reinforced by another very interesting option, that of preventive withdrawal. If there are no other positions that are compatible with the pregnant or nursing woman’s health, she could always be offered benefits so she can continue to receive remuneration, a salary, without jeopardizing her own health or that of the unborn child. That particular benefit demonstrates how seriously we take the future of our children. We do not take that lightly. Collectively, we are ready to assume the costs and to invest so that women can pregnancies it can be done in the safest way possible.

I thank my colleague from Rouyn-Noranda for introducing the bill once more, as it will improve living and working conditions for many women across the country who are not currently eligible for benefits.

The safe maternity experience program can improve the health of women and help their unborn children remain healthy. I have a hard time understanding why two women in Quebec, one in a federally regulated job and the other in a provincially regulated job, cannot both have access to the same program and the same rights. They are both taxpayers, both citizens living in the same province, and there are two standards. There is a double standard. This bill improves other things as well, but this situation would be eliminated to the benefit of all women who would have access to the provincial program. That is why I think that all members of the House should think about how, in concrete terms, we can help pregnant workers and those who have delivered and are nursing their child. This is a good example, particularly for members from Quebec, who can see concrete examples of this problem in their constituency offices.

Having spent a lot of time working with flight attendant unions, I will talk about those. These unions have long called for this change, as they see some of their members actually being financially penalized when they are no longer able to fly and the employer is not necessarily able to reassign them elsewhere, such as to a counter, a cash, client service or ticket sales, for the simple reason that there are already people in those positions. They cannot be moved and replaced by flight attendants who can no longer fly because that is not allowed past a certain point.

This demand is entirely legitimate, and anyone who has ever flown can easily understand why. Those workers are penalized. They are required to go home, with no pay, or to use weeks from their maternity or parental leave much earlier in the process, thus losing them at the end of their year of maternity leave. A Conservative member has stated that it could create an injustice or inequity if two people working for the same company are from two different provinces and are not subject to the same rules. I would say that, in some cases, that is true, particularly when people work on the border between two provinces. We need only look at people working in the House of Commons. Some live in Quebec, others in Ontario. They do not have the same health and safety system, nor do they pay taxes at the same rate. There are many provincial laws that differ, but that is part of life in a federation.

This is a very important private member's bill that my colleague from Rouyn-Noranda is presenting to us. It could really increase the health of pregnant workers and their babies, and it would make sure that if provincial legislation exists, it could be used to ensure a woman's work would not hurt her own health and safety or the health and safety of her baby.

Something has to give. At this time, the employment insurance system, which offers maternity benefits, includes restrictions that limit access to benefits for certain women. For example, at the moment, workers must have accumulated 600 insured hours of work to be eligible for benefits. However, there are no benefits available for women who have not reached the 600-hour threshold or who may need these benefits more than 12 weeks prior to their expected delivery date.

The Liberal government has taken measures, but it is still not enough. I am actually thinking of the extension of the leave benefit period from the current 12 to 18 months. In fact, the cost would be borne by the worker, by the employee who will use this measure, since instead of receiving 55% of her salary out of the 12 months, she will receive 33% of her salary out of the 18 months. Few people can afford to live on 33% of their salary.

The Liberal government says they support the middle-class people or those who wish to join it, but the type of measures it has implemented are far from adequate, and they are really not helping middle-class workers.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

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

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.

Canada Labour CodeRoutine Proceedings

April 6th, 2017 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-345, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant and nursing employees).

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the motion passed unanimously in this House last month, I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, a bill standing in her name on the Order Paper, and move the motions for the introduction and first reading of the bill to amend the Canada Labour Code in order to authorize the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to enter into an agreement with the government of a province that provides for the application, to pregnant or nursing employees, of certain provisions of the provincial legislation concerning occupational health and safety.

The bill also requires the minister to prepare a report on the agreements and to cause the report to be laid before each House of Parliament. This bill represents an important step forward for female workers in a given province, ensuring that they all enjoy the same rights and compensation when they are pregnant or nursing, regardless of whether their job falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction.

Passing this legislation could help ensure that women are not forced to choose between sustaining their income and risking the health of their unborn child or finding themselves in a precarious financial position.

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