Madam Speaker, I stand today to speak to the motion presented by the member for Hamilton Mountain. I realize that the member has good intentions but we disagree in terms of the methodology in the way in which we would handle unemployment.
I will speak to that today in terms of what our government is doing to respond to the challenging times that we have in the economy. I am sure every member of the House is aware of the effects the economy is having on their constituents. I do not think it matters where one is living, whether it is in a large city or in an isolated community, these are challenging times. People are losing their jobs there are threats of job losses. It is a stressful time. Not only does this hurt the employees but it hurts companies.
As an employer myself over the years, one builds a business by looking at training and ensuring that our workforce is valuable and skilled. However, when there is an economic downturn, this issue cannot only be a challenge in the short term but can end up being a long term one if employees go out to find other work.
Meeting payrolls and meeting commitments for payrolls sometimes can be a challenge. There were times when I did not have enough revenue in my business and I had to dip into, not only savings but into personal credit to ensure my employees were paid. It then becomes more difficult if the situation does not turn around and either the sales or the economy does not pick up.
When it comes to difficult times and the decision to lay off people in the workforce, it can be very difficult. The key words are temporary and time. Sometimes the issue is temporary and sometimes the solution is a time factor. I would suggest that the solution to such issues before employees reach the crisis point are sometimes dealt with before layoffs are inevitable.
This government has a program that helps companies face temporary downturns and businesses can avoid layoffs. This program is called work sharing. It offers income support under the employment insurance program to workers willing to work reduced work weeks while the company undergoes a recovery. This program offers a short term, mutually beneficial solution for both the employer and the employee with long term benefits. Under the work sharing program, employers can keep their workers and avoid the cost of trying to rehire workers and any retraining when they recover from temporary situations.
We all understand the costs involved, not only for the employee but the employer in terms of trying to get that individual up to a trained status and the employees are able to continue working and earning much needed income that they need to provide for their families.
Work sharing is a three party agreement between employers, employees, HRSDC and Service Canada. The program has some conditions, such as an employer being in business for at least two years and the presence of a detailed recovery plan for the business. For example, a company needs to show how it expects to return to normal production schedules at the end of a work sharing agreement.
This agreement has been in existence for a while and many organizations across the country have benefited from this arrangement so far.
However, with an economic downturn and the threat of job losses as it stands, this program is needed now more than ever. This is where Canada's new economic action plan comes into focus.
We recognize that our country is being impacted by a global recession, a recession that has not only impacted us here in Canada, but in the United States and across the world.
That is why, following through Canada's economic action plan, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development announced today that the government has extended work sharing agreements by 14 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks. The minister has also announced increased access to work sharing through greater flexibility in a qualifying criteria.
Our goal is to have as many Canadians working as possible while companies recover from a temporary slowdown. This initiative could cost an estimated $200 million over two years and will minimize the financial impact of the economic downturn by helping companies avoid layoffs while their industry recovers.
I want to mention a few other details about the work sharing initiative. Permanent full-time or part-time employees of a company are eligible to participate and to receive work sharing benefits but workers must be eligible to receive regular EI benefits. They do not need to serve a two week waiting period. The employer sets up the scheduled work hours. It also notifies Service Canada of any changes in the working hours and the number of employees on work sharing.
Workers participating under a work sharing agreement do not lose their rights to regular EI benefits if they happen to be laid off after the agreement ends.
I will provide a case example of how such an agreement would work. I will call our hypothetical worker Lisa. Lisa has been working as a technician for the last 15 years at a manufacturing plant in southern Ontario. The plant makes automated systems for new trucks. The plant recently had to cut back production due to the economic downturn that has hit the automotive sector in particular.
In order to retain skilled workers and avoid a temporary layoff, Lisa's employers agreed to participate in a Service Canada work sharing program while the plant restructures. Lisa and her co-workers have been able to work three days a week in their regular jobs while collecting EI for the remainder of the week. This agreement could last 52 weeks while the company recovers.
By keeping Canadians working, our government hopes to diminish the impact of recent economic events. Of course, work sharing is not all that our economic plan offers. Our government is also investing an unprecedented $8.3 billion in the Canada skills and transition strategy to support workers and their families, including measures for income support and skills and training.
We are proposing targeted actions that will provide an immediate stimulus, promote long-term growth and, most important, help Canadians who are unemployed or on the verge of unemployment cope with the economic downturn.
When Canadians lose their job or are at risk of being unemployed, they need to know that the Government of Canada is working hard to help them recover. They need to know that the government is there to protect them and their families. Employment insurance is the first line of defence.
On the EI benefit side, we are proposing to extend the duration of benefits nationally to match the current five week pilot project. Our idea is to build upon experience with pilot projects that provide additional benefits in regions of high unemployment.
By extending the maximum EI benefits by five weeks to all regions of Canada, about 400,000 unemployed Canadians could benefit. We also know that certain industries are being hit hard as the recession deepens. Workers who have been employed for most of their lives at a particular company find it hard to adjust if they are laid off. That is why our government proposes to give these workers more time to get the training they need and more time to find the right job.
This government plans to invest an estimated $500 million over two years to extend income benefits for long-tenured workers who are taking part in longer term training. We are also proposing to allow earlier access to EI for regular income benefits for workers purchasing their own training using all or part of the earnings resulting from a layoff, such as severance pay. About 40,000 workers could benefit from this initiative.
While there is a clear need to address this economic crisis now, we are also looking at setting the stage for our nation's future. The economy will recover and we want Canada to come out stronger than ever. We need to help workers access valuable skills that will help them find good jobs now and maintain those jobs for a prosperous future.
As part of the Canada skills and transition strategy, we propose to increase funding to the provinces and territories by $1 billion under existing labour market agreements. This should help an additional 100,000 EI eligible clients gain access to the skills and training they need to find opportunities in today's changing economy.
In addition, our new strategic training and transition fund will provide $500 million over two years to support the training needs of workers who do not qualify for EI training.
Finally, we are increasing the budget for the targeted initiative for older workers program by $60 million over the next three years. It will also be expanded so that communities with a population of less than a quarter of a million will now be eligible.
In conclusion, our government has proposed targeted actions that provide immediate stimulus and help unemployed Canadians cope with the economic downturn now, with our future in mind. These actions promote long-term growth by preparing workers for a better tomorrow.
Our economic action plan was built by consulting with Canadians to help them get through these difficult times.