Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to recognize a friend of mine, Kevin Shular, who happens to be in Ottawa today. He has been a valuable member of our community in Lincoln and the town of Beamsville. He is in the gallery today with his son. He is moving to the Edmonton area. I have a number of colleagues in the Edmonton area who are going to have the benefit of the great work that he has done. I wanted to recognize him and say that he is going to be greatly missed in our part of the world in Ontario.
I am pleased to speak to this motion. Our government's great concern is that all Canadian workers make it through this economic downturn and be prepared for the coming recovery.
The hon. member's motion calls on the government to implement a passive income support program for older workers who lose their job in order to ease their transition from active employment to pension benefits. In other words, the hon. member is giving up on workers aged 55 to 64.
A passive income support program is not even a band-aid solution. It does not really help anyone, workers, employers, communities or the country at large. In the face of challenges, I do not think taking a passive uninspired approach to experienced hard-working members of our workforce is becoming of Canadians. I do not think that is the kind of economy, society or country we want to build, nor is it the world that we want to build.
Witness the March 2009 meeting of the G8 employment and labour ministers at which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, called publicly subsidized early retirement schemes “a policy mistake”. Why was that? It was because such a passive approach reduces the long-term supply of experienced workers and increases dependency on pension and retirement benefits. Also, it is unquestionably not in the interests of workers themselves.
The fact is we are seeing encouraging signs of an economic recovery on the horizon, resulting in a greater demand for skilled workers. Employment has recently, albeit in small numbers, started to increase.
I know the fundamental point raised by that side of the House is that many affected older workers come from isolated or single-industry communities, and once unemployment hits, there is no alternative work available. I understand that point, but again I do not think being passive helps Canada or Canadians.
Communities are not static and the economy is not static. People are always coming up with ways to diversify, improve and build. When our government is there, we should be there to encourage and support. We should be proactive, not passive.
This government believes in an active approach, and we have a strong record of action. For example, Canada's economic action plan is helping communities restructure through investment in the community adjustment fund, which supports activities that foster economic development; science and technology initiatives; and other measures that promote economic diversification.
Through the Canada skills and transition strategy introduced in the economic action plan, our government is taking more concrete action. For example, we have set aside funds for older workers. Specifically, we are investing an additional $60 million over three years in the targeted initiative for older workers to continue to help older workers gain skills, upgrading and work experience so that they can transition to new jobs.
We have expanded the program's reach, allowing access to older workers in larger communities, as well as in smaller cities affected by significant downsizing or closures. The targeted initiative for older workers created by our government in 2006 is building on success. It is helping older workers get back into the workforce. It is an active, constructive program to help older workers. It is not passive.
We know that certain sectors of the economy have been hit harder than others. For example, the manufacturing sector, wood products and motor vehicle industries have experienced the most dramatic deterioration in their labour market conditions.
In the current global recession, we are all well aware that a significant number of Canadian workers, many who have spent their working lives in one industry, have lost their jobs.
To ensure that these workers have support to retrain for new jobs, possibly in another industry, their EI benefits will be extended up to a maximum of two years while they participate in long-term training. Over 40,000 Canadians could benefit from this career transition assistance over two years.
In addition, eligible workers will have earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using all or part of their severance package. Of course, the House and the human resources committee, of which I am the chairman, have been examining Bill C-50. We just passed that at the committee this afternoon, so that is great news. It will provide comparable measures for long-tenured workers, the same people who fit the criteria for career transition assistance.
These measures will help ensure that the long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for years are provided with the help they will need while they search for new employment. Our government will provide five to 20 weeks of additional benefits depending on how long an eligible individual has been working and paying into EI. It is fair and it is the right thing to do for these hard-working Canadians. We expect this measure to help approximately 190,000 long-term workers.
There is yet another program under EI that has received additional support under our economic action plan, namely, work-sharing. It helps to protect jobs that would otherwise be lost. The work-sharing program helps companies facing a temporary shutdown in business to avoid laying off their workers by offering EI to workers willing to work a reduced work week while the business recovers.
We have extended work-sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks over the next two years. We will allow more flexibility for the employers' recovery plan. As of this week, there are over 5,900 work-sharing agreements nationally, benefiting almost 167,000 Canadians.
Even when we talked to the people who came in to our committee to talk about Bill C-50, they told us about what a great program work-sharing is. Companies have the opportunity to share the work and some of the EI so that they do not need to shut down. It gives them additional time to get stronger and to get back on their feet. It was pretty much unanimous among all the people who came in to see us that it has been a great program.
Through our economic action plan, we are giving thousands of Canadians opportunities to upgrade their skills or train for a different career. We are investing under the action plan and training programs delivered by the provinces and territories, as they are closer to the labour market challenges in their respective areas.
Close to 150,000 workers across the country will benefit from these initiatives. They will help Canadians retrain to keep their jobs or transition to new work and they apply whether these workers are eligible for EI or not. It is clear that our government is aware that older workers face special difficulties re-entering the workforce once they have been laid off.
That is why we commissioned the work of the expert panel on older workers in 2007 to study the labour market conditions affecting older workers. Its report talked about two fundamental themes: enhancing labour market prospects for older workers and supporting older worker adjustment. It confirmed that our government is moving in the right direction with our active approach to older workers.
What the panel did not do is advocate a passive income program like the one members opposite are proposing. Older workers need to be valued. Their experience and skills should not be taken for granted and they should not be overlooked. Passive income support for older workers is an easy way out. It does not speak to the human potential to do better. It does not inspire us.
As I said in the beginning, such programs do not favour the workers, the employers, the community or the country at large. That is why I call on members of the House to defeat this motion.