As always, this government is concerned about and is focused on what matters the most to hard-working Canadians: jobs and economic growth. The bill we are debating today includes key elements of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, a plan that worked to protect Canada from the worst of the global recession.
We have had seven straight quarters of economic growth, and since July 2009 nearly 650,000 net new jobs have been created. More importantly, over 80% of them have been full-time positions. This is great news for Canadians. We are definitely on the right track.
Canada's fiscal position is among the strongest in the world's top-performing advanced economies. However, we must be mindful that the global recovery remains fragile and that there are still too many Canadians looking for work. Too many hard-working Canadians have been affected by the economic downturn, and that is why the keeping Canada's economy and jobs growing act proposes such a large number of strong initiatives to promote job creation, to provide support for communities, to help families invest in education and training and to respect the taxpayer.
As the Minister of Labour, I would like to turn my attention to one of the aspects of this legislation that provides support particularly to workers who have been affected by an employer bankruptcy or receivership. In our economic action plan, we established the wage earner protection program, or WEPP, to help workers manage one of the toughest challenges that they ever face: going without hard-earned pay because an employer has gone bankrupt. As a direct result of this very important program, eligible workers who lose their jobs and who were owed money in the six months prior to their employer going bankrupt or being subject to receivership can now be compensated for unpaid wages and for vacation pay. This compensation also includes severance and termination pay, with workers receiving up to a maximum of $3,400.
The WEPP has proven itself as an important program and has provided assistance to a great many people who have been hard hit through losing their jobs out of no fault of their own. Since July 2008, over 40,000 WEPP claimants have received $89.5 million in payments.
The keeping Canada's economy and jobs growing act would provide additional good news workers caught in a bankruptcy or a receivership situation. We are proposing an expansion of the WEPP to cover employees who lose their jobs when their employer's attempt at restructuring takes longer than six months but is subsequently unsuccessful. This enhanced protection would provide an estimated $4.5 million annually to support workers affected by the bankruptcy of their employer. It would ensure that employees are not unfairly penalized if their employer tries to restructure in the face of financial difficulties, but fails.
The keeping Canada's economy and jobs growing act also announces the government's proposal to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to eliminate mandatory retirement in the federal jurisdiction. We are taking this step because we believe that forcing an employee to retire by reason of age is a form of discrimination and a form of unequal treatment. Canadians are living longer and are more active than ever before, so people should be able to choose when they retire, unless there are compelling reasons, such as health or safety reasons, that prohibit them from choosing themselves.
This piece of legislation strikes the right balance between fiscal prudence and targeted investment, and it is no surprise that there have been very many favourable reactions to proposals from the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. As a few examples, Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada welcomed this elimination of a mandatory retirement age and the role it will play in mitigating the brain drain of experienced workers.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation's national research director, Derek Fildebrandt, also commended the elimination of mandatory retirement and said:
People have a right to determine how long they work, and this is a major step towards eliminating poverty for seniors...
These are only a few among so many favourable statements that have been made in support of the next phase of Canada's economic action plan.
I will take a moment to describe the labour program's role in supporting economic recovery and of course in building a fair and prosperous society.
I am a big proponent that safe and productive workplaces contribute to our economic prosperity. One of the key roles of the labour program is to support occupational health and safety by carrying out workplace investigations of work-related injuries and occupational diseases. We determine causes as well as strategies for prevention and resolution because Canadians should be able to return home safe and secure after a day or night at work.
I have held national round tables across Canada to examine occupational health and safety in the workplace, some of which focused on mental health issues. Our goal was to learn from the range of stakeholders, including employers, employees, other levels of government and academics about current and emerging occupational health and safety issues and how well these are being addressed by the federal government.
Mental health in the workplace, violence prevention, and in Iqaluit northern issues on health and safety, were discussed at the round tables.
Stakeholders across the board believe that respectful workplaces and emotional intelligence need to be promoted as core values for a productive and sustainable society and economy. The National Round Tables on Occupational Health and Safety underscored the importance of our program's focus on healthy and safe workplaces.
I have also met with stakeholders to discuss important issues, such as fair wages, hours of work and women in the workforce. These discussions provided valuable knowledge and insight on issues affecting today's workplaces. They also gave me a better understanding of the challenges that employers and employees sometimes have to face.
The labour program works to ensure that employment standards are respected as well, especially regarding pay, dismissal, leave and hours of work, because employment standards set the foundation for creating productive workplaces.
These standards help protect the rights of workers. They help foster cooperative relationships between employers and workers and provide the necessary conditions for a productive economy.
I am pleased that we have successfully conciliated about 1,000 unjust dismissal complaints, partly through the use of alternative dispute resolution techniques, and have recovered $4.6 million in unpaid wages for workers in the federal sector.
As well, we continue to promote employment equity and related initiatives. Our goal is to foster inclusive and fair workplaces that take advantage of the skills and talents of all Canadians.
Finally, we continue to work in collaboration with both provincial and territorial governments, as well as our international partners, to identify and craft policies that can best support the development of enterprises and workforces, leading to strong and sustained growth.
I will also take time to talk about my constituents in Halton and how the initiatives proposed in this bill benefit them in their everyday lives.
There are a number of small businesses in the riding of Halton and a number of small business owners. Just as the CFIB has applauded the government's position and provision of a temporary hiring credit for small businesses, I know that businesses in my riding will be enthusiastic about this initiative as well.
This bill encourages additional hiring for small businesses through this temporary hiring credit and this is good news for job creation in my riding.
Also contained in the bill is a permanent annual investment of $2 billion in the gas tax fund which provides that predictable, long-term infrastructure funding for municipalities. As well, specific beneficial initiatives are: the volunteer firefighters tax credit; the new family caregiver tax credit; and, the new children's arts tax credit. There are many in here for the good people of Halton.
In conclusion, this act builds on our work to protect Canadian workers and employers and on strengthening labour management relations while playing a leadership role in intergovernmental and international labour affairs.