Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-307, which amends the Canada Labour Code to allow female workers to avail themselves of the provisions of provincial legislation regarding preventive withdrawal when those provisions are more beneficial.
I am very pleased to support the bill introduced by my NDP colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This important bill promotes the full integration of women in the labour market as well as access to a healthy and safe working environment, which I believe is a fundamental right.
We also know that integrating women into the labour market is good for the economy. Consider access to child care, for instance. It is in everyone's best interest to ensure that women have access to a safe working environment that allows them to have children and to work.
At present, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program to protect pregnant and nursing women. Under the Quebec program, which was created in 1981, women receive 90% of their salaries if their working conditions are considered dangerous for them or their children, without having to give up their employment insurance benefits.
In 2008, 32,500 Quebec women benefited from the CSST program Pour une maternité sans danger, at a total cost of $208 million.
The problem is that while these women can use preventive withdrawal for medical reasons, thousands of Quebec women with jobs governed by the Canada Labour Code cannot take unpaid leave or go on employment insurance.
Given that only 33% of women who contribute to employment insurance are eligible for benefits, often because they have not accumulated enough insurable hours of employment to qualify, most Quebec and Canadian women subject to the Canada Labour Code must use preventive withdrawal at their own expense.
The current program requires pregnant women subject to the Canada Labour Code to mortgage their weeks of maternity and parental leave because weeks used before the birth are deducted from their total weeks of benefits. Every week of benefits shortens their maternity leave by one week. Thus, preventive withdrawal is a form of unpaid leave.
In addition, the few women who are entitled to employment insurance benefits receive only 55% of their gross salary. By comparison, Quebec's CSST pays future mothers 90% of their net salary. That is a huge difference.
This bill is important because in Quebec, 250,000 people work under the Canada Labour Code.
In fact, female workers in Quebec who work in broadcasting and telecommunications, banking, postal services, airports and air transportation, marine transportation and navigation, and in other sectors, do not have access to a preventive withdrawal program. We can also mention other sectors where women do not have access to that type of program, for example, in penitentiaries, marine transportation and longshoring, in band council governance activities, in certain crown corporations, and in countless other sectors.
I could talk about hundreds of cases, but I would like to give a more concrete example, that of a woman who works in Quebec, whose name is Isabelle Landry. She is from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and earns her living in the trucking industry, which is a non-traditional job. In 2009, at age 26, she became pregnant. As hon. members can imagine, it is not possible to continue trucking for the entire duration of the pregnancy.
She thought she, like some other female workers in the goods transportation sector,could benefit from a preventive withdrawal through the CSST when her doctor asked her to stop working for the health and well-being of her baby. However, she learned that she was not eligible for the program because she was driving a truck between Quebec and California, which meant she was subject to the Canada Labour Code.
As strange as it might seem, if she drove a milk truck on Quebec roads, she would have been entitled to preventive withdrawal at 90% of her salary.
Isabelle's situation is deeply unfair. Pregnant women working in federally regulated jobs who have to stop working for health reasons must do so at their own expense, while workers in jobs under Quebec's jurisdiction can count on financial support from the CSST.
This disconnect creates two classes of workers in Quebec: those who get the help they need and those who are left to their own devices.
I would like the Liberal and Conservative members who oppose this bill to tell us how they can tolerate a system that is so unfair to women.
I listened to the debates in the House with great interest, and I heard many criticisms. Some members said that the proposal was not feasible, that it could not be done, that it was not possible.
However, in the past, the CSST has frequently been allowed to handle workplace accident claims for federally regulated employees.
All it would take is a simple agreement for pregnant women subject to the Canada Labour Code to be entitled to true preventive withdrawal.
In Quebec, probably because women realize how lucky some female workers are to have access to such a progressive preventive withdrawal program, support for this bill is unequivocal.
According to Nathalie Stringer, a flight attendant and president of the Air Transat component of CUPE:
CUPE has long been demanding this equal treatment for Quebec female workers under federal jurisdiction. In the airline sector, for example, a number of flight attendants have had to make the difficult choice between their financial situation and health risks. Since it is the health of pregnant women and unborn children that is at stake, we are counting on all MPs in the House of Commons to support this excellent initiative and leave partisanship out of it...
Furthermore, Alexa Conradi, president of the Fédération des femmes de Québec, supports my colleague's bill and reminds us that:
Preventive withdrawal, as it exists in Quebec, is a fundamental benefit that all women need. It is a cornerstone of the policies on workplace heath and safety and work-family balance, and it is high time that the federal government followed in Quebec's footsteps on this fundamental status of women issue...
The Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail has also applauded the bill introduced by the NDP member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, stating that if this bill is passed, the working conditions of 10% of female workers will improve.
...this bill will make it possible to finally properly compensate, at 90% of their salary, women working as flight attendants, postal workers, truck drivers, armoured car service workers and dock workers who currently do not have the right to a proper preventive withdrawal measure...
It is also important to remember that Quebec's National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion in June 2010:
That the National Assembly ask the federal Government that all Québec women working under federal jurisdiction have the right to preventative withdrawal as provided in the Act respecting occupational health and safety.
Access to a healthy and safe workplace is a fundamental right for women in the labour market. If it is impossible to offer a pregnant or nursing woman suitable working conditions by modifying her duties, adjusting her workstation or temporarily assigning her to another position, then that woman should be entitled to paid leave. In our opinion, this is a fundamental right.
As we speak, many pregnant women who work for employers that are subject to the Canada Labour Code are continuing to work during their pregnancy in potentially hazardous working conditions because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave.
That is tragic. It is unacceptable. They are putting their pregnancy, their health and the health of their unborn child at risk. This practice must stop.
I hope that we can correct this injustice to the women of Quebec and that other provincial governments will be inspired by these progressive measures to promote women's equality and their integration into the labour market.