Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to express my opinion on this most important issue. As we begin the 21st century, women are a qualified and efficient source of labour that we urgently need in all sectors of our economy. What makes them special—and this is nothing new—goes beyond their professional skills and resides in the fact that they ensure the future of the human race.
Given that, we can more clearly understand the need for legislation to make their lives easier, not only as professionals, but also as mothers. It is not easy to do both, particularly when a woman has a difficult pregnancy, and her health or that of her fetus is at risk, or when her working conditions may endanger their health or otherwise be harmful.
In a context where the low birth rate is a problem, our duty as parliamentarians is not only to make society think about this fundamental issue, but also to propose real measures to improve the lives of women at work. Therein lies the importance of the bill we have introduced.
Bill C-380 would be a clear improvement over the situation in Canada to date. Pregnant women who are regulated by the federal code and who need to leave their jobs earlier to prevent pregnancy-related problems could opt for their provincial or Quebec legislation, instead of the federal code, in order to maximize their benefits under the system best suited to them.
Under Quebec legislation, conditions for pregnant employees regulated by that code, are more generous. Quebec's health and occupational safety commission (CSST) allows an employee to receive her regular salary during the first five working days after stopping work. During the next 14 days normally worked, she is entitled to 90% of her net salary, paid by her employer who is then reimbursed by the CSST.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for federal public service employees or those working in areas regulated by the federal government, such as air transportation, banking and telecommunications. Employees in these industries are subject to the Canada Labour Code and, therefore, they are not entitled to conditions set by the CSST.
Bill C-380 would remedy this deplorable situation, which is a source of injustice for these Quebec workers. With the bill before us, there would no longer be two categories of workers. Pregnant or nursing employees under federal jurisdiction would receive 90% of their salary while on preventive withdrawal under the coverage provided by the CSST, just as those employees under Quebec jurisdiction, rather than the 55% provided by the EI program. I think it is safe to say that they would be pleased with that.
Should Bill C-380 become law, it would be easier for pregnant or nursing employees to have access to more equitable benefits since they would not have to meet EI eligibility requirements.
Finally, they would not lose any of their maternity or parental leave because they had to go on preventive withdrawal, as is the case now under the Canada Labour Code, which certainly penalizes those women who need protection the most.
I must add that I deplore the fact that the pilot project under which the necessary adjustments between the CSST system and the Canada Labour Code system could be made ended October 1.
This pilot project gave employees under Quebec or other provincial jurisdiction the opportunity to chose to receive partial EI benefits while receiving preventive withdrawal benefits, or to receive only preventive withdrawal benefits and then be entitled to a longer period of maternity or parental leave. This ensured a balance and made the system fairer for all women.