Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On behalf of the membership of UFCW Canada, Canada's largest private sector union, I welcome the opportunity to comment on Bill C-38.
UFCW Canada represents more than 250,000 members across the country. As Canada's largest private sector union, UFCW Canada is a leading force for workers in the retail, food processing, and hospitality sectors. As one of Canada's most progressive unions, our membership lives in communities from coast to coast and in every province.
Given the size and number of subjects covered in this bill, it's quite absurd to expect anyone to make suitable comments in five minutes on the far-reaching changes that will take place in Canadian society if this legislation is enacted. However, given the time allotted, I would like to focus on three areas of Bill C-38: changes in eligibility to the GIS and OAS, changes in employment insurance, and changes in the temporary foreign worker program
I would like to mention that our initial communication with the clerk's office was to have us speak on part 4 of the bill relating to the labour code. However, since we are a private sector union with small numbers that would be affected by the labour code, on that we'll defer to other labour organizations who have much more membership in that area.
With respect to the changes in eligibility to the OAS, we believe that the rationale to make the change is as a result of an artificially created crisis. We know that this will have a negative impact on both younger and older workers. Many of the jobs available to younger workers in today's labour market can at best be described as precarious.
What will these changes to the OAS mean for younger workers? When older workers retire, will their jobs, and the benefits and protections afforded them, also disappear and be replaced by precarious jobs?
Most UFCW members have the benefit of being members in a jointly trusteed employer-union multi-employer pension plan. They see the CPP as part of Canada's three-pronged pension system of public, individual, and private sector plans that will allow them to retire at age 65. They are fortunate to be in a workplace pension plan, but with the great recession and its after-effects, many find difficulty in saving for retirement as individuals.
Those older workers who are in their forties and fifties are now facing a further two years of work to qualify for OAS, which they see as a failure of the public system. They also face the reality that as the federal and provincial governments make changes to pension plans and download the costs of those changes, there is less money for benefits.
These same workers are facing another phenomenon in Canada's retirement system, which is the increasing number of employers who want to change existing defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans—a benefit change our union defends against on a daily basis.
There is ample evidence from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the federal and provincial finance ministers working groups, and respected economists from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Labour Congress that Canada's public pension system is financially stable and there is no need to increase the eligibility age from 65 to 67.
As to the other issues mentioned earlier, changes to the EI program and changes to the temporary foreign worker program, it is our belief that both will do nothing more than undercut the wages and employment conditions of all workers. Fast-tracking employer applications and allowing them to pay migrant workers up to 15% less than the prevailing rate shows that the government believes migrant workers are not equal. They are supporting wage discrimination. What is even worse is that with the majority of migrant workers being racialized people, they will be promoting wage discrimination based on race.
Instead of filling long-term labour needs with a short-term disposable workforce that does not enjoy the same rights and protections as other workers, Canada should be giving these workers the opportunity to become permanent residents as part of our nation-building.
Furthermore, instead of making changes to the TFWP that unfairly skew the program in the interest of employers over workers, the government should be enforcing stronger compliance, monitoring, and enforcement measures to protect the rights of migrant workers while in our country.
The changes announced by the government relating to employment insurance are similar to the changes to OAS and TFWP: they are seriously flawed. The government plan to replace 1,000 part-time members of the EI board of referees who currently hear 25,000 cases per year with 39 full-time members will be, in our opinion, unworkable. It will lead to a large volume of complaints against the system and a large delay and backlog in the hearing of the cases.
Of major concern to UFCW members is the government's failure to address the problems of Canada's unemployed and the decision to seemingly blame the unemployed for being out of work. Recent figures released by StatsCan paint a different picture from the federal government's. StatsCan reports that there were 5.8 unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy.
Giving the minister the power to set regulations as to what constitutes suitable employment for various categories of workers, and also to define reasonable and customary efforts to find work, will result in claimants being cut off EI if they decline suitable employment or do not make reasonable and customary efforts to find work. We believe this is intended to drive workers to take jobs that are now being filled through the TFWP, whereby workers can be paid up to 15% less than the prevailing rate. It is our belief this will cause the 15%-less rate to become the new prevailing rate.
We believe the changes discussed in our submission are about austerity and cuts and will do nothing to address job creation or revenue growth to sustain social programs. Rather than continuing to attack the unemployed or underemployed, the government should be focusing its attention on a job creation program that will add to tax revenue and create and provide decent jobs so people can earn a decent living instead of falling into the country's rapidly growing ranks of the working poor.