Mr. Speaker, today only one in three unemployed women collects employment insurance benefits. This number is down from 70% of unemployed women who collected in 1990.
Changes to employment insurance in the early 1990s under the Mulroney government reduced EI access for part time, seasonal and low income workers. Women, who account for about seven in ten of all part time employees, were therefore disproportionately and most negatively affected by these changes.
In 1997 the then Liberal government introduced more changes to the EI system. Eligibility for EI used to depend on the number of weeks worked. When the Liberal government converted EI eligibility to depend on total hours worked, it made changes that were grossly unfair to many workers. The government used the 35 hour work week as the average to calculate the new rate, but ignored the fact that women, on average, worked 30 hours a week.
Under the previous system, those working an average 300 hours in a 20 week period were eligible for EI. Devastatingly, the requirement for eligibility doubled or even tripled, excluding women from qualifying from benefits.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 40% of working women work in non-standard work arrangements. They are employed in part time or temporary, casual and contract work.
Many women hold multiple jobs or are self-employed. Those who are self-employed or work on farms will find they are not eligible for employment insurance at all.
On top of this, most women have to work shorter hours because of their caregiving responsibilities. They look after minor children, elderly parents or sometimes both.
Our workplaces are changing. No longer can people depend on finding full time work with an employer that lasts the rest of their lives. Many of my constituents are losing their jobs in the manufacturing sector as jobs are exported overseas and factories shut down.
These manufacturing jobs paid living wages and provided good benefits, allowing workers to retire in dignity with adequate pensions. Unfortunately, these jobs are evaporating, forcing workers, especially women, into non-standard work arrangements.
In 2004, 34% of jobs fell into this category. Some of these jobs are part time, temporary, contract work or casual, or require workers to be self-employed. Many workers need to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Because these non-standard jobs have irregular or part time hours, they reduce eligibility, especially for women, to qualify for EI. Over 40% of women, compared to 29% of men, work in non-standard work arrangements.
Women who have to leave the workforce because of caregiving responsibilities are considered new entrants when they return to work. These women have to start from scratch to accumulate sufficient hours to qualify for employment insurance.
Quite simply, women suffer in our system, where eligibility is based on the number of hours. It is irresponsible.
It was irresponsible for the Liberal government not to take into account the difference in the workplace participation of men and women when redesigning the EI program in 1997. The current Conservative government has refused to make any changes to make EI more inclusive.
To compound the problems, the current government's budgets have failed to invest in strengthening our economy and have opted instead to reduce social spending in favour of tax cuts. Unfortunately, for 68% of Canadian women these cuts are meaningless, because they do not benefit. They do not earn enough to qualify.
Consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments collected EI premiums but forgot to distribute the proceeds.
Mr. Speaker, I need to tell you at this point that I am splitting my time with the member for Acadie—Bathurst.
The $55 billion in EI surplus was not put into the pockets of unemployed workers, the people whose paycheques created that surplus.
Because our maternity and parental leave programs are based on the EI system, women once again are falling further and further behind. As well, due to a lack of safe, affordable housing and early learning and child care programs, women are insecure. It should come as no surprise that the birth rate in Canada is decreasing.
Without security, women and families cannot thrive and this is particularly poignant when we consider that the job losses in London, which number in the thousands and where I am the member of Parliament, include Vytek, Siemens, Beta Brands and auto sector jobs, and have increased with the recent loss of jobs at Jones and Sons. These are the jobs that sustain families and communities.
Manufacturing is a critical piece of the London economy. London is home to 40,600 manufacturing workers. It accounts for one in seven area jobs. It makes a substantial contribution to London's research and development capabilities as well as economic growth.
In 2006, London's manufacturing workers contributed $422 million to provincial and federal income tax, supported $109 million in municipal property tax, and generated $14 billion in economic activity. This is a matter of fairness. These people deserve to have jobs.
There are, of course, solutions. The Standing Committee on the Status of Women in two reports, “The Interim Report on the Maternity and Parental benefits under Employment Insurance: The Exclusion of Self-Employed Workers” and in “Improving the Economic Security of Women: Time to Act” made very clear recommendations.
Some of the recommendations from these two reports included:
That HRSDC remove the two-week waiting period at the beginning of the benefit period for the receipt of maternity and parental benefits, thus making applicants eligible for benefits during the entire 52 week period covered by Employment Insurance.
That the Department of Human Resources and Social Development expand the maternity and parental benefits program to cover two years, and increase the benefit rate to 60%, in order to help parents balance their paid and caring work.
That the federal government extend eligibility for maternity and parental benefits by changing qualifying requirements to allow parents to reach back over the three-to five-year period prior to the birth of the child.
That the federal government change the eligibility criteria under the Employment Insurance Act to increase access to benefits to persons in part-time or part-year work.
That the federal government amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow self-employed persons to opt into the special benefits programs under the Employment Insurance (EI) program, such as maternity and parental benefits and the Compassionate Care Benefit.
The NDP further expanded these recommendations to include: the maximum yearly insurable earnings should be increased to $51,748, the eligibility criteria lowered to 360 hours, the benefit increased to 70% of regular earnings, and that maternity and parental leave become a distinct benefit under EI. Unfortunately, neither the Liberal nor Conservative governments were interested in any of these recommendations.
There are bigger problems for women in this country than just the need to amend the EI program. The government seems to fear women because: it cut the court challenges program; refused to implement pay equity; will not invest in safe, affordable housing; refuses to implement a national child care program; cut the operating budget of Status of Women Canada; and eliminated funding to most major women's organizations.
Just last month, Lise Martin of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women ended her 10 year tenure at the helm of the central women's equality seeking organization. Over its history, CRIAW has helped rethink and redefine women's equality work while challenging successive governments to improve policies. CRIAW's operating budget had been cut in half due to the changes at Status of Women Canada.
CRIAW follows a long list of organizations that have either closed or had to lay off most of their staff including the Women's Future Fund, NAWL, and WISE. These organizations helped to lead the way to improve women's economic security in Canada. Their research, expertise and advice helped inform policy makers of gaps in the system and provided recommendations on how to improve the situation of women in Canada.
Addressing the systematic discrimination that women face is good fiscal policy. The economic cost of violence against women, according to Statistics Canada, varies from $385 million to $15 billion. Each year women are the key contributors to our communities and our economies, but the government does not seem to understand that, that women and children need its understanding and support.
No nation can hope to fully realize its potential, create a strong economy or support successful communities when half of its citizens can be silenced by poverty, lack of services or a sense of powerlessness. Canadians, like New Democrats, quite simply have lost confidence in the government.