Thanks, Mr. Chair.
Good evening to you, to members of the committee and to the officials who are joining us this evening. Thank you for inviting me to be with you.
I'm thrilled to join you virtually from the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe peoples within the treaty covered by the Upper Canada treaties, as well as the Dish With One Spoon wampum agreement, to discuss the main estimates and supplementary estimates (B) for Employment and Social Development Canada’s labour program.
This year, the department's main estimates present a total of $68.6 billion in planned budgetary expenditures to carry out its mandate during the 2020–21 fiscal year. More than 94% of this amount will directly benefit Canadians through the department’s programs, services and initiatives. We are proud of the work we do to help Canadians build better lives for themselves and their families, and to be resilient in facing the challenges.
The Government of Canada took a number of extraordinary but necessary steps to protect and support Canadian workers and businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To make sure that employees in federally regulated workplaces would be able to take time off work to deal with situations related to COVID-19, like school closures and self-isolation, the government introduced a new job-protected leave under the Canada Labour Code. We also waived medical certificate requirements to access certain existing leave.
In addition, the government took action to protect the employment of employees in the federally regulated private sector. New measures gave employers more time to recall employees who were temporarily laid off due to the pandemic. This gives workers a better chance of staying connected with their organization, and puts employers in a better position to restart, or start growing their business, as we transition out of the pandemic. This is a big part of building back better.
As well, the government temporarily extended the eligible wages period for the wage earner protection program by up to six months. We did so to ensure that any delays in insolvency proceedings, due to the pandemic, did not harm, hurt or compromise the worker's eligibility for that program. Moreover, throughout the pandemic, we have been reminding employers of the importance of having an evergreen hazard prevention plan.
That leads me to my portfolio’s supplementary estimates (B). The department is requesting $0.4 million related to supporting business resumption for federally regulated employers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges on many fronts for workers and employers in Canada. An effective business resumption requires focused occupational health and safety efforts, including addressing mental health. That’s why the labour program will increase proactive occupational health and safety activities, outreach and guidance, as well as enhance technical and mental health expertise to support business resumption in the federally regulated sector.
The government recently announced that the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety will receive $2.5 million over two years to continue the excellent work it has been doing to provide COVID-19 resources to the workplaces. This funding is part of the coordinated efforts by federal, provincial and territorial governments, public health authorities and CCOHS to ensure that businesses have the necessary tools to protect their employees.
One of the key pieces moving forward is ensuring workplaces are both safe and equitable. That is why we are implementing the Pay Equity Act, which introduces a proactive pay equity regime that will ensure that people working in federally regulated workplaces receive equal pay for work of equal value.
This unlocks people's productivity, creativity and enthusiasm, because they know they are being paid justly. Quite frankly, we have told our children that women and men are co-equals. It's high time that our legislation indicated that we practice what we preach. In fact, I am sure future generations will find it bizarre that this debate was ever had.
We are also raising awareness of wage gaps that affect women, indigenous people, people with disabilities and visible minorities in the federally regulated workplaces through new pay transparency measures.
As you know, we passed legislation to help prevent violence and harassment in the workplace. We will soon move forward with implementation of this legislation and regulations, which will come into force on January 1, 2021.
Workplaces are evolving even faster now due to the pandemic. Mental health is a key element of occupational health and safety. That's why we will consult and work with unions, workers, employers and experts to further improve support for mental health of workers.
Mr. Chair, these are just some of the actions we are taking. There's no doubt that the financial resources requested under these main estimates and supplementary estimates (B) will enable us to continue this work. These efforts we are making, which connect things we are already doing with our direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are all part of our government's plan to build back better for all Canadians.
I will now be pleased to take your questions.