Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to support Bill C-307 sponsored by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
Bill C-307 would amend the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant or nursing employee to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.
More specifically, this bill would affect pregnant or nursing employees who work in a job that comes under the Canada Labour Code. It would allow these women to benefit from applicable provincial laws, making it possible for them to request preventive withdrawal, a transfer to another position, or financial compensation under provincial legislation. The last subclause of this bill makes a very important point: an employee who decides to exercise the rights conferred by this bill will not be subject to sanctions or reprisals of any kind. This subclause, which highlights the importance of the absence of prejudice, is an important addition, and I congratulate my colleague for thinking of it.
My colleagues on the other side of the House made a number of arguments for not supporting this bill. I listened carefully to the arguments. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour is concerned about the cost of these measures.
After giving the issue a great deal of consideration, I believe that the health of women, fetuses and infants is well worth the $11 million that this bill will cost. The sum of $11 million seems to me to be very little when you think of all that can be accomplished with this increased protection for Canadian workers. What my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie is proposing is to protect the health and safety of mothers and future mothers.
In fact, this bill tackles a major problem in our laws. Currently, a pregnant woman or a nursing mother must incur the costs of leave without pay in order to ensure her own safety and her child’s. The employment insurance program is not much help, either. Each week of leave taken before the birth of the child is a week that is not taken afterward.
This means that a woman must choose between spending less time with her baby while she is on maternity leave and ensuring her safety and her baby’s safety while she is pregnant. In my opinion, this does not make sense. We ought to support pregnant or nursing Canadians. Why should a woman bear the economic burden of her own safety at work? It is not fair.
In Quebec, there are provisions that entitle women to preventive withdrawal from the workplace and allow them to receive 90% of their salary. Since 1981, pregnant women are protected if their job entails dangerous tasks, such as carrying a weight of more than seven kilograms, interacting with people who might be potentially dangerous for her or her child, working in an environment that is too noisy or standing for more than seven hours.
These provisions can make all the difference between a happy pregnancy and a stressful pregnancy. In my riding, there was a report that one couple expecting a baby were surprised to learn that the pregnant woman was not entitled to preventive withdrawal. As a trucker, a job that is covered by the Canada Labour Code and therefore under federal jurisdiction, the woman was not entitled to the preventive withdrawal benefits which her counterparts covered by the CSST enjoy. This means that, despite the dangerous conditions, the long hours of work and the continuing vibrations, she is not entitled to preventive withdrawal. She must take unpaid leave and pay for it herself, or find a safer job, perhaps losing her seniority.
This situation is totally unacceptable. For this couple, a provision like the one proposed in my colleague’s bill would mean peace of mind for the future mother about her financial situation, her baby’s safety and her own well-being.
Another job that is potentially affected by this bill is that of flight attendant. I cannot imagine how a pregnant flight attendant must feel when she finds out that she must take leave without pay to ensure her own safety and that of her child.
Imagine being pregnant. As your pregnancy progresses, you realize that a job that involves standing for seven hours in a plane shaken by turbulence could have a negative impact on your health and that of your fetus. So you have to make a decision, and it is not an easy one: continue working, putting your pregnancy at risk, or make the financial sacrifice and take leave without pay to protect your health. That is totally unfair. Women should not be punished because they have chosen one career over another.
This bill is exactly what CUPE has been fighting for. Nathalie Stringer, a flight attendant and president of the Air Transat component of CUPE, said:
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.
This is about the safety of women, fetuses and babies. This is about women's equality and a social safety net that supports a just, fair and healthy society.
If the government really wants to help Canadian families, it has to walk the walk. It has to stop penalizing pregnant women. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, make a real difference in the lives of millions of families, and make our society more just.