Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate it.
Good day to my honourable colleagues.
I am here today to speak about Bill C-50—an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits. It is important legislation designed to support our workforce. With this legislation, we have the opportunity to provide meaningful help to those workers who have lost their jobs because of the recent downturn in the economy.
This is about fairness. The legislation we're examining today will extend regular employment insurance benefits to unemployed long-tenured workers.
So who are these long-tenured workers? Well, as part of our government's economic action plan's career transition assistance initiative, we define these workers as people who have worked for extended periods and have made limited use of EI benefits. They can be found in all sectors of the economy and right across the country. In fact, it's estimated that roughly half of Canadians who pay EI premiums are long-tenured workers, and roughly one-third of those who have lost their jobs since the end of January 2009 and have made an EI claim are long-tenured workers.
These are Canadians who have contributed to our economy for years and have lost their jobs as a result of the global economic recession. They've worked hard, paid taxes, and played by the rules their whole lives, and of course they have contributed EI premiums each year on the job. These new measures by our Conservative government for long-tenured workers will provide five to 20 weeks of additional regular benefits, depending on how long an individual has been working and paying EI premiums.
As an example, under the legislation, workers who have contributed to the program in seven of the past 10 years would receive an extra five weeks of employment insurance regular benefits. For every additional year of contributions, the number of weeks of benefits would increase by three weeks, up to the 20-week maximum.
As the bill stands, the start date would be linked to the coming into force of the bill, and the measure would remain in place until September 11, 2010. This means that payments of these extended benefits would continue until the autumn of 2011. Our Conservative government's major concern is that workers who need help receive it. That's why our government will introduce an amendment to fix the start date at January 4, 2009. This is the right thing to do to ensure that no workers fall through the cracks while this bill passes through both Houses of Parliament. Also, our government will introduce a technical amendment that will guarantee that all eligible long-tenured workers will be able to access their maximum benefit. This too is in recognition of the time it takes to receive royal assent on this bill.
To gradually transition out of this measure, the level of additional benefits would be reduced in five-week increments. We're providing support to Canadians when they need it. In fact, Bill C-50 has the potential to help 190,000 unemployed individuals who have worked hard over the years and are now in a very vulnerable state.
We believe this is fair, responsible and the right thing to do at this time. It will help unemployed workers who have worked hard over the years and now, through no fault of their own, are unemployed and need assistance to get through this difficult period.
Mr. Chair, Bill C-50 complements a series of other measures we have introduced in Canada's Economic Action Plan.
Earlier I mentioned the career transition assistance initiative. With the CTA, we are again supporting long-tenured workers but in a different way--through training. Workers can get their EI benefits extended up to a maximum of two years while they undertake long-term training. They can also get earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using part of their severance package or all of it. Service Canada is offering information sessions across the country to make sure that long-tenured workers are aware of their options.
Through our economic action plan we've also implemented other important measures to support all unemployed Canadians. This government is providing five extra weeks of EI regular benefits and increasing the maximum duration of benefits from 45 to 50 weeks in regions of high unemployment. This measure has already helped over 300,000 Canadians while they search for new employment.
We are also protecting jobs through the Work Sharing program. This is a tremendously successful initiative because it actually prevents people from losing their job in the first place. By enhancing work sharing agreements, we are allowing more flexibility for employers' plans during the recovery period.
This month, there are approximately 5,800 active work-sharing agreements across the country, supporting some 165,000 Canadians. Some 8,400 families have been helped by our wage-earner protection program. We're also providing an additional $1.5 billion towards skills training to be delivered by the provinces and territories. This is over and above the normal training funds that we already provide to the provinces and territories. Through our economic action plan, we are investing even more in older workers to ensure that our workforce benefits from their invaluable experience and mentorship.
As I explained earlier, the legislation before us proposes a temporary measure that will provide some much-needed assistance to long-tenured workers throughout the country.
The passage of this bill will make a difference in their lives and the lives of their families. Now let us do our part and assist them when they need it most and support them while they find a job.
It's the fair thing to do, it's the right thing to do, and it's the responsible thing to do. At this time, we need to stay the course, because our plan is delivering for Canadians. The last thing that Canadians want and need at this time is an unnecessary and unwanted election.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm pleased to answer the committee's questions now.