moved that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and to increase benefits, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to introduce Bill C-50 to the House today. What is it about? It is about our government helping workers and their families. It is about extending EI regular benefits to those who have worked a long time and have never or rarely collected EI benefits.
Many workers have lost their jobs through no fault of their own because of the global economic downturn that has cut the ground out from under them. What happens to the workers who have rarely, if ever, collected EI before and who suddenly find themselves out of work? These are Canadians who have paid their dues, have worked hard, have paid their taxes for many years and have, of course, paid EI premiums.
It is only fair and responsible that we support them and their families in their time of need. Many workers have worked in the same job or industry all of their lives and face the prospect of having to start all over again.
In many cases, these workers are now facing low prospects of finding work in their industry, and many will face challenges transitioning to a new career.
These measures will help ensure that long-tenured workers who have paid into the EI system for years are provided the help they need while they search for new employment.
These are temporary changes to the EI program to help workers when they need it most.
The proposed measure would extend nationally regular benefits for long-tenured workers by between five and 20 weeks, depending on the number of years they have worked and paid EI premiums.
As proposed, this new, temporary measure would cover all new claims established from the start date, which will depend on when the legislation comes into force. Payments would then gradually phase out by fall 2011.
As members can see, this temporary measure is designed to help long-tenured workers find work as our economy recovers. The additional weeks of EI regular benefits would help these workers by providing support for a longer period while they look for work during the economic downturn.
This government is concerned about fighting the recession. This is, of course, in contrast to the official opposition that is more intent on fighting the recovery. This government believes that it is more important to be fighting for working Canadians, rather than fighting an unnecessary election.
This temporary measure is in addition to other measures that we are taking under our economic action plan to help workers. Canadians from all areas of the country and from all walks of life are being provided with meaningful help.
For example, another measure to help support long-tenured workers is the career transition assistance initiative. It consists of two measures to help workers retrain for new jobs.
The first extends their EI regular benefits up to a maximum of two years while they participate in longer-term training. Thousands of long-tenured workers will benefit from this measure.
The second measure gives long-tenured workers earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using all or part of their severance package.
Moreover, in our economic action plan, we have moved very quickly to provide the advantages of five additional weeks of EI regular benefits. In areas of high unemployment, we have increased the maximum duration of EI benefits by up to five weeks and, through our economic action plan, we are investing an additional $1.5 billion in provincial and territorial training programs. These programs are effective because they are being implemented by those closest to the labour market challenges in their respective areas. Close to 150,000 workers across the country will be benefiting from these initiatives that will help them retrain to keep their jobs or transition to new work. These agreements have been signed, sealed and delivered.
Let me now say a few words about work sharing, a federal program under EI that helps protect jobs. This program is another example of successful action taken by this government. It allows employees who might otherwise be laid off to continue working a reduced work week while they receive EI benefits for the days they do not work.
Under Canada's economic action plan, our government has made changes to work sharing that will maximize its benefit during this difficult period. The work sharing program now allows more flexibility for the employer's recovery plan and extends the maximum duration of the agreement by an additional 14 weeks.
Let me give this House an example of just how this is working. At a Michelin plant in Waterville, Nova Scotia, 550 workers have been participating in a work-sharing program since April 12, 2009. Under their agreement Michelin workers at this plant collect EI benefits for one day a week and work the other four days.
This government has always believed that the best way to help Canadians is to ensure that there are opportunities for work. This is a prime example of the right EI policy providing the right result. That is just one example.
At the beginning of September there were over 5,800 work-sharing agreements in place, benefiting almost 165,000 Canadians whose jobs are being protected.
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, businesses fail. When an employer goes bankrupt, workers have good reason to worry about the money that is owed to them. That is why a wage-earner protection program provides eligible workers with guaranteed and timely payment of their remaining wages, severance, termination and vacation pay if their employer goes bankrupt and cannot pay them.
Since January 27, 2009, the WEPP has reimbursed $17 million in wages to over 8,000 Canadians who were owed eligible wages by their bankrupt employer.
We know how difficult it can be for young people to find their career paths when they have little work experience. That is why, under our economic action plan, we are supporting two measures to help young people in transition.
Our Canada summer jobs program has seen its funding increased by $20 million over the next two years. Subsequently, this year we were able to sign approximately 22,000 agreements to support the creation of almost 40,000 jobs for students who will get valuable work experience.
And we have finalized a $15 million agreement with the YMCA and YWCA to implement the new grants for youth internship program across Canada.
Under this program, up to 1,000 young people will gain work experience through internships with not-for-profit and community service organizations, with a focus on environmental projects.
In today's environment we realize how important it is for Canadians to develop the skills they need to participate and indeed succeed in the job market. In particular we need to attract young people into the skilled trades. Earlier this month Canada and Calgary were host to the WorldSkills Competition. Canada's young people had an opportunity to become more knowledgeable about world-class expertise in the trades. I want to congratulate all the competitors on Canada's team at WorldSkills Calgary.
Let me announce to the House that Canada's team, known as the “Great 38”, won a total of eight medals this year: three gold, three silver and two bronze. To all those participants I would like to say their country is behind them and we are proud of them all the way.
While I was at WorldSkills Calgary, I was particularly delighted to present the first apprenticeship completion grant cheque in Alberta to a former participant in the Canadian WorldSkills competition. Under our economic action plan we added the apprenticeship completion grant to motivate Canadians to complete their apprenticeship training and receive certification in a designated “red seal” trade. The apprenticeship completion grant builds on the apprenticeship incentive grant which encourages young Canadians to progress through their apprenticeship training.
Mr. Speaker, are you aware that an apprentice could receive a total of $4,000 in grants with both of these programs? That is good news. As many as 28,000 Canadians could take advantage of this excellent opportunity aimed at training our workforce of the future.
We are also providing support, indeed more support, for older workers under the economic action plan. The targeted initiative for older workers will provide an additional $60 million over three years to enable people 55 to 64 years of age to get skills upgrading and work experience to help transition to new jobs.
These are people who bring a wealth of experience to the workforce, providing invaluable knowledge and mentorship skills.
The economic action plan is helping Canadians in all walks of life. It is helping an older forestry worker in Quebec transition to a new career. It is helping a young woman in Regina train for a job in web design. It is helping a single mother in British Colombia get back into the workforce by learning a trade.
It is helping the laid-off worker in Ontario who needs extra weeks to look for a new job. Our economic action plan is helping a lot of people who have been knocked down by the economic crisis to get back on their feet.
Not so long ago, as we moved into the summer months, the Leader of the Opposition made a great deal out of how important he felt EI was to himself and to other members of his party. We on the government side agreed to work together with the opposition to develop solutions to this serious problem. Our government brought serious proposals to the table. The opposition, however, became fixated on a program that would provide for a 45-day work year. We said from the beginning that it was the wrong direction. We knew that a 45-day work year would not create a single Canadian job.
Sadly, before our work was finished, the opposition walked away from the talks. Actually more to the point its members decided that they would not even bother to show up. On the advice of the Leader of the Opposition his party walked away from Canada's unemployed. Not only that, but when our government held a briefing session yesterday for the opposition members to discuss this bill and to inform them about it, the Bloc and the NDP were there to learn more, but not one Liberal MP cared enough about the unemployed to show up and learn about the bill.
I will stand in this place today and say to the House that this government will never, ever walk away from Canada's unemployed, especially when they need our help the most.
We are making good progress, but the job is not done.
I want to re-emphasize that Canadians do not need, nor do they want, an unnecessary election.
The economy is still our number one priority. We need to continue to implement our economic action plan in order to create and maintain jobs.