Debates of June 2nd, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.
- Ways and Means
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- Member for Newton—North Delta
- Member for Newton--North Delta
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- Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention Act
David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I heard the comments from the member for Peterborough. The last part of his comments was something to the effect that he took into account all the variables. I must tell members that the only variable here is that the whip came along and said that the position of the hon. member was going to change when this got to the House.
That is a totally inadequate answer to a very straightforward question. I am from Hamilton. We like to do things straight up. At committee, the hon. member felt this was a good idea. He cast his precious vote in favour. Now it is in the House a few months later and the member is voting against it. An explanation is in order.
Peter Adams Peterborough, ON
Mr. Speaker, I believe, and I am sure one of my colleagues will remind me, that this was one of 29 or more recommendations that we were dealing with, so in one sense it is a small item and in another sense it is not.
We have put in place the experiment with 14 weeks and we are now being urged, on the spur of the moment, to change it to 12 weeks.
I do not like the implications about my whip. Our whip is a wonderful person. She is our best friend. She is a person who is fair and compassionate and someone who I respect deeply. I do regret my colleagues suggesting that a person such as that, such a wonderful member of Parliament, would treat me in some overly severe way.
Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague seems to indicate that there are a number of different projects being tried. He said that we have to find a balanced approach so that EI is not seen as the employment funding so to speak for an area or a region.
I am curious to know if he thinks this way because there is not enough money in the EI fund or if he somehow falls into the view that people who are doing seasonal jobs really do not want to work part of the time.
I have to admit that I am getting the impression from some members that they somehow feel that people who are doing seasonal jobs really do not want to work all the time and therefore do not deserve to have their employment insurance come into place when they are not employed for part of the year because the type of jobs they do are seasonal. I am wondering if maybe that is just part of not recognizing that different regions of the country have different jobs available and one cannot necessarily work year round in a specific job.
Is the member's reasoning because there is not enough money in the EI fund or does he fall into that trap of believing that people who are on EI really do not want to work?
Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my colleague from Mississauga—Brampton South had to say. It is one of these difficult things because we all have compassion for people who are out of work, and particularly people who are out of work either frequently or for long periods of time.
In the modern economy it is not unusual for people to change jobs and to have a number of careers in a lifetime. It is different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I mention also that the nature and size of our labour force has increased extraordinarily to where the unemployment level is now at 6.8% nationwide. It was 12.2% in the early 1990s, the sort of period that we are looking at. The ideal rate of unemployment is zero but that is impossible given that people are in transition.
In the Atlantic provinces the rate fell in that time from 15.7% to 10.4%. Quebec's rate fell from 14.3% to 7.9%. Ontario's rate fell from 11.5% to 6.8%. The rate in the western provinces fell from 10.2% to 5.1%. We now have less long term unemployment in Canada than any other G-7 nation and that is because of the job growth that my colleague was talking about. Job creation is very important.
I have great concerns about the unemployed but the unemployment program is for employed people and unemployed people. I would like my colleague's comments on that.
Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to my party's motion to close a gap in Canada's employment insurance program. I will be splitting my time, and am pleased to do so, with the member for Churchill.
This motion addresses one aspect of the problems faced by Canadian workers, who the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has defended tirelessly since he first came to this House eight years ago and for whom I have the utmost respect.
Members of the House know that in regions all across the country from coast to coast to coast there are communities that suffer from endemic unemployment. Seasonal economies simply make it difficult for men and particularly women of those regions to find long term and stable income that will sustain their families. As the seasonal work cycles ebb and flow, many workers will simply not qualify for EI benefits because of the limitations of their seasonal jobs.
A number of affected workers are women and aboriginals. Many of them are among the most vulnerable in our workforce and often have minimum wage jobs. After all deductions are made, their net pay is only 55% of their salary. Try to imagine how it is possible for a family to live with only 55% of the minimum wage.
It is high time for the Government of Canada to take measures to resolve these systematic injustices.
By calculating benefits based on the best 12 weeks of work instead of 14, we would, in effect, be reducing the period without employment that currently reduces the amount of benefits received. This is a much fairer and more equitable approach.
In recent years, the EI system has moved further away from actually helping the people who it was meant to protect. When only 35% to 40% of workers qualified for the benefits that they paid for, there is clearly a problem with the program. These are the individuals who are paying for the program and yet they do not qualify when they need its help. Something is wrong.
For 12 years, Canadians have listened to Liberal rhetoric on EI reform. During each election, the Liberals pledge to correct the failings of the EI system, but after each election the Liberal governments quickly forget the very commitments that they made to workers and their families. We have seen it time and again.
The Liberals know that their policies are causing great harm to workers in many parts of the country but they simply will not act to bring about real change even when the evidence and the recommendations are right before their eyes and even when some of their own members have participated in the creation of those recommendations.
The Liberals like to argue that calculating the benefits based on 14 weeks is an incentive for workers to keep working as though these hard-working men and women have some kind of a choice. The government would have Canadians believe that it is the workers in seasonal jobs who are hooked on employment insurance. It is a destructive, patronizing, negative attitude toward the working people who do the work that we all need done in our society.
It is not the workers it turns out who are hooked on EI. Far from it, it is the federal government. It has discovered a source of revenue so it can give away its large corporate tax cuts and carry on with that sort of program. Forty-six billion dollars in the EI slush fund, whose money is that? It is the money that belongs to the workers. It was put in the fund for the benefit of the workers when they most need it, when their families have been forced out of work, because of no decision by the worker but because, in this case that we are talking about today, of the seasons of work coming and going and they simply do not have a paycheque.This is the system that they paid into to help ensure they would have a little bit of income so that when their children came home from school they would put a meal on the table. That is what we are talking about.
The government continues to inject hundreds of millions more into the system as a result of contributions by workers. The NDP is not alone in calling for changes. The Auditor General has continued to demand that the government reform EI.
The fact is that there are many jobs that must be done in this country, jobs that we all expect will be done, but those jobs can only be done during particular times of the year. Let us take the fishery and farms in Nova Scotia, the crab industry in Newfoundland or the fishery on the north coast of British Columbia as examples. Workers there must work as the seasons permit and then they have to find other employment in the interim months. It is a really tough process.
Where that is not possible, our motion proposes a more equitable access to those workers to receive sufficient benefits to help them get by until the next season. We cannot harvest the crops or the snow crabs in January and we can do nothing to change that. Unless we are saying that we do not want such industries to exist at all, then we need a system that allows families to get by if they are unable to find other work.
We are not the only ones to recommend this. It was recommended by a standing committee consisting of all parties that travelled the country and heard witnesses from across the country.
The forestry industry is facing the same situation. Be it in The Pas, Manitoba, Charlevoix, Quebec, or Prince George, British Columbia, forestry workers are finding themselves out of work during the off season.
We are simply proposing to do right by them.
Tourism is an expanding industry in a number of regions in Canada and draws hundreds of thousands of tourists. This is good, but not many sites are able to attract visitors 12 months a year. From Summerside to Sault Ste. Marie to Whitehorse, when the information kiosks, tourism attractions, historic sites and festivals close for the season, we should provide these workers with EI benefits so they can make ends meet until the next tourism season.
The motion is not sweeping in scope. It does not, by any means, correct all the various problems with the employment insurance program. It simply takes one important initiative that had been brought forward in a recommendation from a standing committee in an effort to see it adopted by the House, to get something done.
However it is a very important change because it is a change that can happen now and it is a change that would affect workers and they could see the results immediately, not years from now. It would address the needs of some of those most in need in our society. It is a modest step forward but it is an essential step in a long battle to expand the access to employment insurance, to make it fair and to improve the benefits that these workers have earned.
There are always some people who do not qualify under every major federal programs such as EI. Today's motion seeks to fix these flaws and assist the thousands of Canadians living in regions hard hit by unemployment and working, of necessity, in industries that do not provide year-round employment.
It is going to help people out. It is not going to replace full reform but it is a positive step for Canadians.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Toronto--Danforth, our leader, for participating in today's debate. It is important to recognize his effort to do so. This is a very important issue and, as we have already said today, it is a modest step forward on an issue that is very divided in terms of how the House feels about it.
I would like to ask him about the things he has witnessed as he has travelled the country among family members and what they have said about the instability of work and how it is affecting their lives and their future. We have looked at areas with over 10% unemployment where people are having a difficult time planning for their families because of the instability of work. This motion would be a modest improvement.
I would like to hear what the member has heard from Canadians about what they want government to do in the way of assisting and facilitating them. They do not want a hand-out. They want a hand up. This is their money that they paid into the fund to ensure their dreams were fulfilled.
Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments. There is no question that he is a member of Parliament who is standing up for the workers in his community as well, and on a whole series of fronts.
I was very struck by my visit to the riding of the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, who has been a champion of this issue. The hon. member, as we all know, has been a champion of reform for employment insurance. He speaks with great passion about the situations of the families.
When I had a chance to actually visit with some of those workers, quite a large number of them met with us. Most of them were women. These people were earning a very low income, but they had a lot of pride in the work they did. It is hard work to go into one of those fish plants. It is cold in a fish plant so that the fish we love to eat, and I love to eat fresh fish, remain fresh. I am thankful that someone is doing the hard work of filleting the fish in that cold environment to make sure that this wonderful product is available when we sit down with our families to have a meal.
The fact of the matter is that in these plants the fish come in at certain times and there is work to do. It is not very well paid work, I have to say. The wages are quite low and the work is hard, but nonetheless there they are, the people preparing that food for us and our families.
Yet when the fish stop arriving and there is nothing more to be processed in the plant, naturally the plant has to close down. Suddenly, those individuals who have been paying into the employment insurance program, with money taken right off their paycheques and put right into the very fund we are talking about right now, are simply unable to go to that fund, even though it has billions of dollars of surplus in it, to get a little bit of help to buy food for their families.
I will bet that a lot of them simply cannot afford the fresh fish we eat, the fish that we are buying in the stores and that they have worked to pack for us. They cannot even afford it for themselves. Or they have to turn to a food bank. This hard work can affect their health. I know there are injuries associated with it. It is not an easy job. These individuals are struggling to get by between the times when the fish come in for packing and when they do not.
As for anyone who stands up and tries to suggest that these workers are not interested in working or that we need to see if the “labour market” effects are positive or negative, let us just analyze what those people are really saying. They are really trying to suggest that if we give these workers some fair access to their own money in the employment insurance fund they are not going to do the work.
That is an insult. It is a complete insult. It is not fair. It really does not represent a respectful attitude toward the working people of this country in our key communities and industries, and it is time that it changed. Our motion would be a small step toward recognizing that those workers deserve some respect from us.
The Deputy Speaker
Order please. It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, Deportation of the Acadians.
Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on our opposition day motion.
The motion itself does not encompass all of the wrongs within the unemployment system. That has been acknowledged today. We have been criticized by the other opposition parties, whose members have said that somehow we should have fixed everything in this one opposition day motion. Either of the other two opposition parties could have on numerous occasions also tried to fix it, but they have in a number of instances failed to do so. I want everyone to reflect on the fact that we are addressing only one of the faults in the unemployment system.
My riding, including both land and water, is about four-fifths of the province of Manitoba. There are only about 80,000 people in the riding. Over half of the first nations in Manitoba are in my riding.
In my riding, there are large numbers of people working in seasonal employment in the forestry industry, as the member for Toronto—Danforth said. There are a number in the fishing industry and others within the tourism industry, whether they are guiding or helping out. This motion would definitely increase their opportunity to have more dollars coming into their households, there is no question about it, and ultimately that means more dollars going into their communities.
The people who are collecting unemployment insurance are not taking holidays in the Cayman Islands. They are not going to Mexico. They are not whipping off to Hawaii to spend their money. They are buying milk and bread to put on their tables. They are spending that money in their local communities. If they do not have the dollars coming in from employment insurance, a lot of them will end up having to collect social assistance. They do not want to be collecting social assistance. They have rightfully earned the right to receive employment insurance.
What has happened is that year after year the government has cut the benefits within employment insurance. I have been working pretty much every year since I was 12 years old. I worked every summer. I have been in full time employment since I was 17 or 18. During that course of time I have worked summer jobs that started in May and ended in September, and I had enough weeks in that I was able to collect employment insurance.
As a newly married young mother I moved to where I now live and was able to collect employment insurance for a period of time, but I still went out to look for work. I did not sit back and say, “Gosh, I have all this money”. Members must bear in mind that I was probably getting a good percentage more than a lot of the individuals are getting now. I still looked for work. I expect that most people on employment insurance want to do the same thing.
Over time, after I had each of my children I was able to take time off and receive maternity benefits because there was a program that helped offset the costs. We were a young family and were able to hold our own while doing that. I went back to work each time. I expect that most people on employment insurance want to do the same. It is not their fault that they are living in communities where there is no employment and they cannot do it.
It is being suggested by those who oppose this motion that these individuals should somehow travel across the country with all the money they have stashed away because they must have stashed away a pile of money in their seasonal jobs from which they are trying to earn enough of a living to support their families. They must be able to stash a pile away, those who oppose this motion say, so that when they are unemployed they can take a $2,000 or $3,000 trip from one end of the country to a place where there may be some employment for a few weeks. How ridiculous is that?
These are individuals who cannot afford to travel that far without getting some money. There used to be money within the employment insurance system for relocating for periods of time. There used to be dollars available for that. That is gone. It was one of the benefits that was stripped out of the employment insurance program.
On top of taking away those dollars and cutting benefits, percentage rates have been established so that if people have collected once they are going to be punished for having to collect again and they will lose more dollars.
All we asking for in this motion is to put a little of that money back in. It would be one thing if the money were not there, but there is $46 billion from employment insurance premiums that the government is using for other things. Is that fair? Is that just? Is it fair that all of those people who are working and paying their premiums into their insurance plan now cannot get decent benefits because the government wants to use the money, as my colleague from Toronto—Danforth said, to give $4.6 billion in corporate tax cuts?
What is wrong with this picture? Who are members representing here in this House? Is it not those workers and those employers who have paid in the money?
Should we not be improving the benefits and putting dollars back into local communities? This is not money to use on a holiday to the Cayman Islands or Mexico. This is money going back into Prince Rupert, The Pas, Thompson, Bras d'Or and Acadie—Bathurst, into numerous communities across the country. I am sure some would even end up going into Alberta, as rich as people are in Alberta. We all hear about how rich people are in Alberta, but I know there are people who are unemployed in Alberta and who need some additional dollars, who want to work but maybe at certain times do not have those jobs available.
It is not as if the dollars are not there within the employment insurance program, but we have a government that wants to use those dollars for other things. How dare the Liberals? How dare they come into the House and talk about their wonderful surplus when time and time again benefits have been cut from the employment insurance program?
If people are paying into an insurance plan for their house or even for car insurance and they see the plan building up and there is money there, they want to see the benefits improved. Is that not right? People are not expecting that this year the company is going to say, “No, we want another $500 and the deductible for accidents is going to be increased by another $500”. That is not acceptable, people would say. If the company is making the money from this and not spending it, people want to see the benefits improved. They would want to see their deductible lowered. Rightfully so. It is their money.
In this case, it is our money and our employers' money. We want to see the benefits. It is no different. We are asking for an improvement in the benefits. The dollars are there. As for anyone who talks about irresponsible spending, that is just not the case. These are dollars that are in the employment insurance program.
Now if we want to keep that program honest and if we want to keep the government honest with the employment insurance program, there is no question about it: a separate fund should be set up. I understand that we are going to hear that the Auditor General thinks it should be included in general revenue and the government may at some point have to offset the cost. At $46 billion, that is a whole lot of offsetting, so that just does not cut it with me.
The reality is that there is room to improve the benefits within the employment insurance program. This is one aspect of improvement that we want to see. The dollars are there. Not doing it is irresponsible and it is unconscionable. Quite frankly, I would like to say that it is almost like extortion to keep taking money from workers and not putting dollars back into the program that they and their employers are paying the premiums for.
There are things that can be done to improve the program. That is what should be happening. That is what we are calling for here. We are calling for an improvement in the benefits by way of reducing the number of weeks. We are not asking for anything unreasonable. We are not asking for the moon. We are not asking for additional tax dollars to be paid. The premiums have been paid and the money is there. I hope everyone in the House will support the motion.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciated the hon. member's speech.
We are all aware of the obvious bad faith emanating from the Liberal side, from the member for Bourassa in particular. He was in Jonquière in 2000, and promised some union members, steelworkers if I remember correctly, that there would be changes made to EI but these were never forthcoming. Again this week, I am told, he did his utmost in committee to delay the study of a bill to improve one aspect of EI.
When it comes down to it, are not the federal Liberals nothing more than proponents of that neo-liberalism so unpopular everywhere in the world for its propensity to make working and living conditions worse for workers to turn them into more flexible tools for big business? When they are not able to earn a decent living, they are forced to accept just any job. One might therefore say that the Liberals are contributing to worsening working conditions everywhere in Canada.
This is my question for the hon. member. Are we not dealing here with neo-liberal politics, pure and simple?
Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, there is no question. One certainly would get that impression. I honestly do not believe that each and every one of my colleagues on the Liberal side think that way. I do believe they are getting rooked into doing something that is not right because they have a controlling body that says they have to do this because it wants to give corporate tax cuts. I think a lot of good people on the governing side are getting rooked in and they are falling into it, somehow believing they cannot do anything for working people.
There is no question that if people in the fishing industry or the forestry industry are unable to get some assistance in downtimes, they will have to move or go on social assistance or their industry will be wiped out. Maybe there is some unscrupulous plan to put them out of business for good so a large corporation can take over the fishing industry. We hear these different stories of different things happening.
I would ask that all my colleagues on the governing side not get rooked in by those people within their party who want to benefit large corporations.
Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON
Mr. Speaker, as an employer over quite a number of years, the biggest asset I had in my company were my employees. Employment insurance was a big cost to our company and it was one thing for which I never objected paying.
There were various times over my years when I would have people come to me who needed one or two more weeks so they could qualify for employment insurance. I would hire them on whether I needed them or not to ensure they got their weeks. I felt they paid in and they deserved that.
However, I have been in and out of the House today. I look across at all the government people who are so interested in this today, the people whom the NDP members aligned themselves with in this recent budget. All I have heard today coming from that corner at various times was how wrong the Conservative Party is. It has not been the Conservative Party that has been in power for the last 12 years when lot of these changes were made.
I stand wholeheartedly for a lot of the things that have been said over there, but we have to remember from where this has been coming. Sometimes when you are looking for support for something, you do not keep beating on someone who might support it. I would just leave you with that bit of advice.