Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-38.
Jobs, growth and long-term prosperity are at the heart of this bill, which comes as Canada is emerging from the global economic downturn and facing increased competition in the global marketplace. Fortunately, we are facing these challenges from a position of strength.
Our government pledged in the Speech from the Throne that we would promote a stable low-tax environment, develop a highly skilled and flexible workforce, support innovation, and expand access to markets abroad. Bill C-38 is the next step in delivering on those promises to Canadians.
The Government of Canada's priorities are also the priorities of the labour program. The labour program is cutting red tape. It is modernizing and streamlining its operations, as well as consolidating some programs and activities. The cost-saving measures within the labour portfolio will result in savings of $16.7 million. At the same time, we are continuing to fulfill our mandate to promote a fair, safe, productive workplace, and facilitate co-operative labour relations in federally regulated private industries.
I will begin by describing what Bill C-38 will mean for the federal labour portfolio. When businesses go bankrupt, many people suffer, but some of the most unfortunate are those former employees who were entitled to long-term disability pensions and indeed were receiving long-term disability pensions. Bankruptcies can lead to the reduction or even complete loss of long-term disability benefits when there are insufficient funds to cover the outstanding claims. Economic action plan 2012 proposes to require that going forward, federally regulated private sector employers insure on a go-forward basis, as I said, any long-term disability plans for employees. This will provide additional financial security to these individuals and their families when they need it most.
The new provisions for long-term disability plans complement the support our government already gives workers through the wage earner protection plan, WEPP. The WEPP was introduced in 2008 to provide timely compensation to workers in federally regulated industries for unpaid wages and vacation pay they had earned in the six months preceding their employer's bankruptcy or receivership.
We expanded the WEPP in 2009 to protect severance and termination pay, and again in 2011 to cover workers whose employers had to restructure without success. The recent expansion is estimated to provide an additional $4.5 million annually in support to workers affected by the bankruptcy or receivership of their employer. Through economic action plan 2012, we are proposing to add $1.4 million annually in operating funds to ensure that WEPP applicants receive the benefits they are entitled to when they need them.
I would also like to briefly mention some other economic action plan 2012 measures that will increase efficiency and get better value for Canadians. Among the changes, the federal contractors program will be redesigned, and that will streamline the program requirements. The initiative is part of the Government of Canada's deficit reduction action plan, and it will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs to ensure value for taxpayers.
The obligation for employers to meet employment equity goals will now be placed directly in the contract as a mandatory clause, and failure to meet the obligations shall constitute a breach of the contract. As such, federal contractors that wish to contract with the Government of Canada will be required to meet employment equity obligations. Modernizing the federal contractors program will reduce the administrative burden on contractors. That, of course, was a key recommendation of the Red Tape Reduction Commission.
We also propose to amend the Status of the Artist Act to transfer the function of the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal, or CAPPRT, to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. The CAPPRT currently supports constructive labour relations between federally regulated producers and self-employed artists, but there has been a considerable decline in CAPPRT's case activity over the past five years. Indeed, each year since 2006-07, the tribunal has only received slightly more than one new application, and averaged fewer than one day of hearings.
As a consequence, the government has decided to transfer CAPPRT's powers, duties and functions to the CIRB. With this amendment, the existing framework for labour relations in the federal cultural sector would remain in place, with the CIRB continuing the work of the tribunal and promoting and supporting professional relations between artists and producers.
By transferring CAPPRT's powers, duties and functions to the CIRB, the government is ensuring that an experienced and competent body remains to oversee the relationship between artists and producers in the federal jurisdiction, but it would do so while generating cost savings and improvements to administrative efficiency. We fully expect that this transfer would result in both improved services and reduced delays in resolving cases, while not directly impacting the artists themselves.
We are also proposing to modify the Government Employees Compensation Act to streamline and improve administration of third party claims and to enhance efficiency in the federal public sector. Workers' benefits would be unaffected by this adjustment but the amendment would allow crown corporations to pursue third party claims under the act and that would reduce overall labour program administration costs for third party claims.
Finally, we are also planning to repeal the outdated Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which was enacted in 1935 at a time when very few regulations existed to protect workers. At one point in time, it did serve a useful purpose, but today it no longer plays a significant role in protecting workers. The reality is that federal construction contracts today account for only 2% of non-residential construction work in Canada compared to 1955 when it was 11%. As well, the provinces and territories already regulate wages and working conditions in the construction sector. In many respects, the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act duplicate existing provincial labour legislation.
Today, like all other workers in Canada, construction workers are protected by comprehensive provincial and territorial employment standards. They are also protected by human rights and by occupational health and safety laws of the provinces and territories. Therefore, repealing the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act supports our commitment to create jobs and fosters economic growth by eliminating red tape and duplication. It is part of our deficit reduction action plan and we seek to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations and programs to ensure value for the taxpayer.
With respect to temporary foreign workers, prevailing wage rates are already set by HRSDC and Service Canada, and repealing the act will not change this.
In conclusion, the Government of Canada's priorities continue to be jobs and growth, and these are also the priorities of the labour program. Through Bill C-38, our government is looking to move forward on our commitment to make effective and efficient use of our resources in ways that respond to real needs.
I urge this House to support Bill C-38.