Thank you for the invitation to today's hearings.
The question your study seeks to answer is directly tied to one of the fundamental challenges behind achieving equality among Canadians: recognizing and valuing invisible work. The Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale, or AFEAS for short, is approaching today's consultation from that particular perspective.
Already in 1968, during the Bird commission hearings, AFEAS stressed the importance of recognizing unpaid work by women in the family unit and society. It argued that this work, which is seen as women's social role, impoverishes women their entire lives. The situation continues today, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown.
No one, it seems, anticipated a health crisis of this magnitude. From the outset, it brought out glaring inequalities between women and men, especially for racialized and immigrant women.
At the same time, the pandemic has shone a light on the work of those who remained on the job to keep society's essential services running and care for those who are ill. In the health care sector, 80% of the workforce is female, caregivers are generally women, and the education sector also relies on many female workers.
Since the pandemic hit, women have mostly been the ones on the front lines. However, the key stakeholders, women, are left out of the decision-making bodies, even though decisions made on a day-to-day basis directly concern them. To prepare for a second wave of the pandemic, as well as the recovery or the return to normalcy to be defined, AFEAS is proposing various short- and medium-term measures.
To start with, AFEAS recommends two essential benchmarks to ensure that legislation, policies, programs and measures require that women participate as key stakeholders. It means not only involving women MPs, but also women's and community organizations, as well as researchers who, year after year, work for and with women. The way out of the crisis, which will be social, economic and environmental, must include women.
AFEAS requests that the Government of Canada establish a gender parity requirement for all relevant bodies set up to manage the crisis and its aftermath, and use gender-based analysis, or GBA+, to ensure that women's needs and perspective are heard and taken into account.
To obtain true recognition for their work, and to raise awareness of the contribution made by Canadians who perform invisible work, AFEAS calls on the federal government to declare the first Tuesday in April national invisible workload day and, above all, to assess and integrate the economic value of so-called “invisible” unpaid work into the gross domestic product, or GDP. For your information, in 1992, Statistics Canada estimated that the invisible workload accounted for 34% to 54% of GDP, or $235 billion to $374 billion Canadian.
To address some particular challenges women are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, AFEAS suggests implementing certain measures. With regard to women's health and safety, coping with the crisis has brought its share of stress, anxiety and distress for women who manage the daily routine, but also for the people they care for, be they children, the elderly or persons with disabilities. In addition, for many women, losing their jobs, even if that income was temporarily replaced by the CERB, has added further stress. I should also mention the upsurge in domestic and family violence, which more women and children have suffered during the lockdown period.
To remedy this situation, in the event of a return to lockdown, the Government of Canada and the local and provincial authorities concerned must implement services for children and seniors or others in need; ensure regular follow-up with vulnerable people who may be victims of violence, women and children, to bring them out of isolation; and consolidate the network of shelters for those experiencing domestic violence.
In terms of economic impact, the Conseil du statut de la femme estimates that 120,000 women have lost their jobs, as compared with 55,100 men, and that twice as many women work part time, which has consequences for them. The data obviously relate to Quebec.
In Canada, it would cost $4 billion to $10 billion to hire 1.2 million full-time professionals to cover the hours worked by family caregivers, 54% of whom are women.
According to the Regroupement des aidants naturels du Québec, only 3.2% of caregivers received a tax credit in 2017, receiving an average amount of $559. Moreover, because of the restrictive eligibility criteria, many caregivers did not qualify for the tax credit.
Research shows that, in Canada, caregivers spend an average of $7,600 per year on the person they care for, regardless of their initial income level, and that 20% of caregivers are financially insecure.
To support and value the contribution of parents, caregivers and all those who do invisible work, AFEAS is asking the federal government to convert existing non-refundable tax credits into refundable tax credits for parents and caregivers, and create new income tax measures truly adapted to their needs.
In addition, AFEAS is calling on the government to make changes to employment insurance caregiving benefits: the compassionate care, family caregiver for adults, and family caregiver for children benefits. Specifically, the government should eliminate the mandatory one-week waiting period, pay all three benefits for 35 weeks, and change the current definition of a critically ill child or adult to provide access to benefits in the event of a chronic medical condition.
More than anything else, AFEAS is calling for the requirement to implement pay equity programs at all levels, both in government institutions and in federally regulated businesses, as well as in companies that receive government contracts, grants or loans.
Women are known to face pressures and social barriers. As the previous witnesses have all mentioned, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the government to place schoolchildren and people age 70 and older in lockdown in their homes, and to close non-essential businesses. Overnight, women had to find different ways to run errands, keep the kids busy, home-school them, and care for family members with diminishing independence or in self-isolation, while continuing to do their paid jobs at home or in the essential service sector—if they had not lost their job as a result of the crisis. Most importantly, they also had to avoid getting infected and infecting others. Quite a heavy added burden that no one was prepared for landed on women's shoulders.
To support women in the coming months, the Government of Canada and its provincial partners must introduce measures to ensure equal sharing of family duties and responsibilities, strengthen family agencies and services, and develop agreements with employers and others to reduce productivity requirements, even for teleworkers, while maintaining full weekly pay.
In closing, AFEAS has something else for the committee's suggestion box. It recommends that the federal government create a public day care system across the country, introduce 10 days' paid vacation, and move quickly to set up affordable housing programs and ensure adequate availability of consistent, comprehensive high-quality home care.
Most of all, AFEAS is asking the federal government to resist introducing austerity measures while the economy recovers, as it would only impoverish those already in need and destroy public services and the social security system. We have been there before.
Finally, AFEAS is requesting that special attention be paid to indigenous communities on and off reserve. How can you self-isolate if you are contagious, when families live in overcrowded conditions because of a lack of adequate housing? How can you follow public health measures—