That this House denounce the government for its massive cuts to the unemployment insurance system that limit access to the program and hit young people, women, seasonal workers and immigrants hard.
Mr. Speaker, it is with a sense of pride and with the greatest determination that I table this motion this morning. The official opposition is outraged by the fact that women, seasonal workers, newcomers, any person who is not already on the labour market and all those who are forced to look for work on what is called the new job market are dealt a direct blow by this UI reform, which was so long in coming and which the government did not see fit to make public before the Quebec referendum. In short, it hits anyone who does not have a secure job that pays reasonably well. We know that such jobs are becoming increasingly rare.
That makes a lot of people. One thing is sure, within just a few years, hundreds of thousands of Canadians and Quebecers will be affected. For the hon. members' information, I should mention that, each year, one third of the workforce in Quebec relies on one form or another of UI assistance. Now this inequitable reform hits directly anyone who is not already a player in the system, any new player who might need the kind of collective support provided by a real UI program, as opposed to a bogus program.
From now on, the first time someone apply for UI benefits, he or she will be required to have worked 26 weeks, 35 hours a week, over the previous 52 weeks to be eligible. Anyone who knows anything about the labour market knows how hard it is to meet these requirements. Anyone who has a child, brother, sister, mother or friend who is a newcomer knows how terribly difficult it is to meet these requirements in the world we live in.
Seventy per cent of all part time jobs are held by women. And 40 per cent of them are held by young men and women. In the future, 910 hours of work will be required to qualify, or 26 thirty-five hour weeks, instead of 20 fifteen hour weeks. Let us look at what 910 hours of work mean.
Someone who works part time 15 hours a week can quite simply not meet the requirement over the year. It would take this person 60 weeks, but there are only 52 in a year. On the other hand, if someone works part time 17.5 hours a week, by the end of the year, he or she could qualify. These figures show the scope of the change. This is a major change.
In fact, as I said earlier, many women, young people and newcomers will be excluded. The government boasts that an additional 500,000 people will be covered by the UI system. This is a reference to all the workers who, until now, did not pay premiums and consequently were not eligible to UI benefits, because they did not work more than 15 hours per week.
The truth is that, given the prerequisite, this measure, which, in other times, might have been an improvement, will in fact force these people to pay premiums, without actually being eligible to UI benefits.
From now on, there will be two groups: those in the system and those out of it. This will create yet another obstacle for those who are excluded and who will often have to fall back on social assistance. Eligibility for UI benefits, when one is in the system, will also be based on a number of weeks of employment, which will vary from region to region. The minimum required will be 12 weeks in regions with a high rate of unemployment. In Montreal, it is currently 14 weeks. So, under the new system, a Montrealer will have to work 14 thirty-five hour weeks, instead of 14 fifteen hour weeks.
What does this mean in the case of all the new short term positions and part time jobs? It means that it will take these workers longer to qualify. It also means reduced benefits, since it will take longer to qualify, but the entitlement period will ultimately be shorter.
Once again, this is somewhat like a sure ticket, not to British Columbia, but to the welfare rolls. It must be understood, by the way, that the fact that this reform was carried out without any consideration whatsoever of the social assistance or other programs
already in place has resulted in a system that is not better adjusted and co-ordinated than before, but in some ways worse than before.
For those who do not have jobs as stable as the hon. members here-relatively stable at least, for five years-we need to realize that life is not easy. Finding a real job is extremely difficult. This is the case whether a person has an education or not. I know numerous teachers with two master's degrees and a Ph. D. who are still muddling along as best they can, and have had to be on unemployment insurance temporarily in the past. Now they will no longer be eligible.
The same is true for all those who are term employees. New jobs, even in the technology field, jobs with the Internet, in the graphics field and so on, are contracts for X weeks, often not very many. The person may make good money, but after that it dries up and another job is hard to find. That is how the job market is structured.
These measures before us, however, instead of being tailored to the new job market, do nothing more than to take unemployment insurance back to the days when a person had a good job and a good boss, but expected a cycle of layoffs from time to time. Then unemployment insurance was around to fill the gap.
This reform reintroduces, in another disguise, the two tier unemployment insurance scheme that had all of Canada up in arms during consultations on the so-called social program reform. Everyone, including the committee formed by the minister specifically for this, was against it.
Now, with the penalty for "frequent users" as they are termed, a penalty which creates two types of unemployment "pay", depending on whether a person is one of the lucky ones with stable jobs-they have put effort into it too, but luck also enters into it-or one of the unlucky ones who have not managed to have stable employment, there will be two levels of benefits. Two levels, when all is said and done: 50 and 55 per cent. That means that there is constant pressure in favour of decreasing the general level of benefits, each year heading us closer to the U.S. level of 50 per cent of the industrial wage.
This is a regressive reform, that is to say instead of removing the limit on contributions so that people with high salaries, or those who do overtime, may help provide a bridge for those workers who are less fortunate-there was some suggestion of raising that ceiling in the other so-called reform of 1994-instead of going ahead with this, the government is backing away. This is even contrary to what the minister has said, in claiming it was a progressive step. The government is bringing the limit for contributions down to $39,000 per annum. Above that no more is paid into unemployment insurance.
This has a serious economic effect. Let me tell hon. members right off that it is anti-employment. How so? This measure will hit workers and businesses in the so-called labour intensive sector. There will be a reduction in unemployment insurance premiums but also in the solidarity that unemployment insurance provides, since labour intensive businesses which pay high wages will still have an incentive to make their employees work overtime instead of hiring additional workers.
That is not the only regressive aspect of this measure. There is more. Listen to this. The only tax reduction allowed by the government benefits businesses and employees earning a salary of more than $39,000. Until now, they had to pay unemployment insurance premiums but from now on that will no longer be the case. They stand to benefit from a tax reduction that will cost how much? $900 million. It will cost the unemployment insurance account $900 million. So who is going to make up the shortfall? Workers paying premiums for the first time. I did not say first time UI recipients but first time contributors. From now on, UI premiums will be paid on every hour worked.
I explained earlier that this did not mean automatic eligibility. Far from it. But it does mean they will have to pay, those 500,000 or so who are going to pay starting with the very first hour worked. Students who could be exempted previously will have to pay regardless and will not get their money back until they file their income tax return. People who earn less than $2,000 will get the money back when they file their return. Yes, it is easier to administrate but it does not make things easier for Joe Blow.
So a tax reduction for people earning more than $39,000, and for the others a tax increase that will kick in from the very first dollar earned. This is a very regressive measure.
And there is more. I did not mention annualization. What that means? It means that from now on, a young person who has a two-month design contract worth $10,000 will pay premiums on the full amount, but if he gets nothing else in that year, he is not eligible for unemployment insurance, although he paid the full premium on $10,000. Great. You know how much this will put into the UI account? One billion dollars. That is what senior officials came out and told us at our briefing session.
So we can hardly call this reform employment insurance. Despite the announced employment benefits, it is the kind of insurance that will ensure that an increasing number of people will have no other recourse than to go on welfare.