Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in favour of Bill C-50, our government's latest step to help Canada's unemployed.
Our government has taken action throughout the past year to help Canadians. As part of Canada's economic action plan, we have made changes and improvements to the EI system to help those Canadians who have become unemployed through no fault of their own.
We have made timely improvements, providing five extra weeks of EI benefits; making the EI application process easier, faster and better for businesses and workers; and increasing opportunities for unemployed Canadians to upgrade their skills and get back to work.
Canada's economic action plan also announced the freezing of the EI premium rate for this year, 2009, and for next year as well, 2010. I would point out that the EI premiums are at their lowest levels in a quarter century. Keeping the EI premium rate at the same level in 2009 and 2010 is achieving additional stimulus, as this measure therefore keeps premium rates lower than they would otherwise be. This helps leave more money for employers to hire and retain workers and more money in the pockets of those working Canadians.
We are assisting businesses and their workers through improved and more accessible work-sharing agreements. More than 165,000 Canadian jobs are being protected with work-sharing agreements that are in place with more than 5,800 employers across Canada.
These improvements are helping these Canadians stay at work and maintain their skills so that these companies can come out of this recession even stronger, with their skills and employee base maintained.
Career transition assistance is a new initiative that will help an estimated 40,000 long-term workers who need additional support for retraining to find a new job. Through this initiative, we have extended the duration of EI regular income benefits to up to two years for eligible workers who choose to participate in longer-term training. We are also allowing earlier access to EI for eligible workers who invest all or part of their severance in training that takes longer than 20 weeks.
By working with the provinces and the territories through this and other programs, we are providing Canadians easier access to training that is tailored to the workers in our country's different regions. This new legislation we are introducing is part of those efforts.
Bill C-50 is about extending EI regular benefits to workers who have lost their jobs after working a long time and who have never or have rarely collected employment insurance or EI regular benefits. These Canadians have paid their taxes for many years, and of course they have paid EI premiums. It is only fair and right that we support them and their families in their time of need.
For the purpose of this new measure, the definition of long-tenured workers applies to workers from all sectors of the economy. It is estimated that about two-thirds of EI contributors meet this definition of long-tenured workers.
More than one-third of those who have lost their jobs across Canada since the end of January and who have established an EI claim are long-tenured workers. Many of these workers have worked at the same job or in the same industry all of their lives. They may have poor prospects for finding the same kind of job when the recession is over, and many face the prospect of starting all over again. We can either see that as a defeat or see that as an opportunity.
Canadians are resilient people. We have shown over and over again that we can cope with adversity and come out stronger. While losing a job is difficult on workers and their families, we can still see these difficulties as opportunities for the future.
We are constantly reinventing ourselves. I see it happening in communities, and I see it happening among individuals, but it takes effort and it takes time, and that is why this government wants to give long-tenured workers who lose their jobs the time they need. That is why we propose to make temporary changes to the EI program.
Bill C-50 would extend, on a national basis, EI regular benefits for long-tenured workers by between five and twenty weeks, depending upon the number of years they have worked and paid EI premiums. They are eligible if they have paid at least a minimum amount of EI premiums for at least seven out of ten calendar years and have received EI regular benefits for no more than 35 weeks in the last five years.
This new measure would apply equally to long-tenured workers everywhere in the country. This new measure has a measure of retroactivity, so that we can reach back and cover workers who lost their jobs during the ramp-up and peak of the recession.
Benefits would continue until the fall of 2011 for those who needed them. This temporary measure supplements other measures that we are taking under the economic action plan to help workers.
We are helping Canadian workers in all different walks of life and in various circumstances, including those at risk of being laid off, those who have been laid off, younger people trying to get into the job market, older workers, newcomers to Canada and Aboriginal Canadians.
I want to get back to the long-tenured workers. We already have a special program to assist them called the career transition assistance initiative. Its aim is to help those workers retrain for new jobs even if they need to move to an entirely different industry.
The career transition assistance initiative is based on two important measures. The first extends EI regular benefits for long-tenured workers up to a maximum of two years while they participate in longer term training. The other measure gives long-tenured workers earlier access to EI if they invest in their training using all or part of their severance package. I mentioned this earlier in my remarks.
Thousands of long-tenured workers will benefit from career transition assistance. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of training in both our short-term and long-term plans.
As I have said, we want to help Canadian workers adjust to the changes brought by the recession. We also want to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. To this end, we are giving Canadians all over the country opportunities to upgrade their skills or retrain for a new career.
Through our economic action plan, we are investing an additional $1.5 billion in provincial and territorial training programs. Close to 150,000 workers across the country will benefit from these initiatives and they will have access to them whether they are eligible for EI or not.
Furthermore, the targeted initiative for older workers will receive an additional $60 million over three years to enable more older workers aged 55 to 64 to get skills upgrading and work experience to help them make the transition to new jobs.
The program's reach has been expanded so that communities with a population fewer than 250,000 are now eligible for funding. With this change, an additional 250 communities could be included in the program, depending on provincial and territorial participation.
This government does not want to see any category of workers shut out of the labour market indefinitely or consigned to obsolescence. That is why we are making huge investments in training and retraining workers of all ages, because we cannot spare any of them. We will need them all in the years to come. We will need their skills, experience, energy and creativity to meet the challenges to come.
Our government is focused on what matters to Canadians, finding solutions to help long-tenured workers who have worked hard and paid into the system for years but are having trouble finding employment through no fault of their own, extending benefits to self-employed Canadians and getting Canadians back to work through historic investments in infrastructure and skills training.
It is clear from these and other measures introduced in Canada's economic action plan that our government is stepping up to the plate to provide real results for all Canadians. That is why I would like members of this House to support a bill that would say to proven workers that we stand behind them, that we will help them get through this recession, that there are better times ahead and that we want them to be part of that.
I ask members to support Bill C-50 and to support Canadians who want to get back to work.