Mr.Speaker, I am very happy today to rise in the House and express my strong support for Bill C-44, the helping families in need act.
As Canada's Minister of Labour, my focus is on the Canadian workplace. I think and I hope this act would be welcomed by both workers and employers because it brings support to families at a time when they need it most. As members know, supporting working families is a priority for this federal government. There is no more important time to do that than when parents are grieving the loss of their child, dealing with the disappearance of their child, or caring for their critically ill child. That is why this bill intends to amend the Canada Labour Code to create a new unpaid leave to address the needs of parents who are faced with this kind of unthinkable hardship.
Working parents face a lot of pressures. Parenthood can be a challenging time. Careful planning and organizing can certainly help, but a bit of bad luck can throw all that careful planning and organizing out the window. Some scenarios for parents are predictable and can be handled with ease. If someone has a common cold, that affects the whole family; a school can close because of a snowstorm; or there may be an injury requiring basic medical care. These situations can pretty much be expected by parents. I am sure most of us have dealt with these things and can relate.
However, there are scenarios that parents cannot foresee or even imagine. Heaven forbid the doctor telling parents that their child has something much more serious than a cold or the flu. Suddenly, they find themselves in the hospital keeping vigil over a little person who has been hooked up to tubes and wires. At a time like that, do they think about the emails they have not answered or the deadlines they have missed at work? They do not. Unfortunately, though, the world does not stop while they are dealing with their child's illness. The bills keep coming in even if they have taken a leave of absence from work. They still need to eat, heat their house, and put gas in their car. Indeed, they may likely have extra expenses to cover because their child is in the hospital.
Then there is the anguish that parents feel when a child is missing, possibly the victim of crime. What if the unthinkable happens and the parents' worst fears are confirmed and they are told that their child will never be coming home? As a mother, I cannot even imagine the pain that a parent can feel at that time and my heart goes out to those in these terrible situations.
These are situations that, as parents, we never want to be faced with.
I am glad that our government can offer these families more than just sympathy. We can also give them financial help. Canadians told our government that existing EI benefits are inadequate for the parents of critically ill children and we listened. They told us that parents of missing or murdered children need more assistance and we saw that they were right. We were also told that people on parental leave sometimes fall ill and they need to be able to access EI sickness benefits so we took action. That is why in Bill C-44 the federal government has launched important new initiatives.
I will give a brief overview of the initiatives in general and then I will focus on the impact that these changes would have on the Canada Labour Code.
On April 20, 2012, the Prime Minister announced our government's intent to offer a federal income support for parents of murdered and missing children. Every year, approximately 100 children in Canada die as the result of a Criminal Code offence such as homicide or aggravated assault, and 1,100 children are reported missing as a result of abduction. Parents who lose a child to illness or injury must make many end-of-life decisions, including arranging a funeral. However, parents of murdered or missing children must also deal with uncertainty, sometimes for an extended period of time. They are involved with the police and with the courts. These are not quick processes. Currently, parents of murdered or missing children have access to limited financial assistance. The victims fund reimburses expenses incurred by Canadians who are victims of crime abroad. In addition, the RCMP's travel/reunification program provides free transportation to reunite a parent with a child who was abducted by the other parent.
Parents who are sick due to the emotional trauma related to the death or disappearance of their child and are unable to work for this reason may also be entitled to up to 15 weeks of employment insurance sickness benefits.
However, once implemented, the new federal income support will be a substantial improvement. It will provide payments of $350 per week for up to 35 weeks in a one year period to parents of children under 18 who have gone missing or have died as a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence. This income support program is expected to be operational by January 1, 2013.
I have a few words to say about the provincial benefits. Parents whose child has died or is missing as a result of a suspected Criminal Code offence have varying levels of support across the country when they take time off work. All provinces, except Newfoundland and Labrador and the territories, provide varying degrees of compensation and financial assistance for victims of crime, which may include parents of murdered or missing children. For example, Nova Scotia provides a maximum of $4,000 for counselling expenses, whereas Manitoba has a more comprehensive program with no maximum amount. This new federal income support will complement these initiatives and will help lessen the burden on parents.
Parents of critically ill children will also get more help. Under the existing legislation, working parents may be eligible under some circumstances for up to six weeks of EI compassionate care benefits if their child is so sick that he or she is in danger of dying in the following 26 weeks. However, the current criteria for medical eligibility excludes many parents from qualifying for support under this compassionate care benefit, even though their child may be critically ill and in significant need of care. Therefore, on August 7, 2012, the Prime Minister announced our government's intention to bring forward legislative changes to the Employment Insurance Act to address this issue.
Through this bill, we are making these changes and we are creating a new EI benefit for parents of critically ill children. This new benefit will provide up to 35 weeks of temporary income support to eligible parents who take leave from work to care for a critically ill or injured child. This income supplement is expected to be available to claimants in June 2013.
In the face of overwhelming difficulties, such as a child who is missing or critically ill, I think employers understand that employees may need to take time off work. Employers recognize that workers who are simply exhausted or are under stress because of these personal challenges are a lot less likely to be attentive and certainly less productive. I am sure most employers would be relieved if they knew that their employees were getting a basic income while they lived through such challenging times and that at least some of the financial stress was lessened.
Workers who can get the time they need to recover from a crisis are more likely to return to work and to return in a better state of mind. Therefore, parents who take leave from their job to care for a critically ill child or to deal with the murder or disappearance of a child often have two additional worries on top of their pressing crisis: first, they worry that their money will run out; and second, they worry that their job will disappear while they are away from work and focused on their child.
Our government's position is clear: No employee should have to worry about losing his or her job when dealing with a traumatic experience like the death, disappearance or serious illness of a child. That is why we have proposed through Bill C-44 to amend part III of the Canada Labour Code to give employees in federally-regulated workplaces the right to take unpaid leave if they find themselves in one of those unfortunate situations.
For parents of a critically ill child, the Canada Labour Code will be amended to provide job protection for up to 37 weeks, for parents of murdered children the amendments will provide job protection for up to 104 weeks, and for parents of a missing child for 52 weeks.
For employees in other jurisdictions, the Canada Labour Code protection may vary. Therefore, I do hope that other provincial and territorial governments will follow our lead and amend their respective labour laws to protect the jobs of parents of murdered or missing children and critically ill children. That way these parents will also be able to benefit from these new Government of Canada income support measures while knowing that their jobs are protected by their specific jurisdiction.
Employees would not be required or expected to take the maximum time allowed but it will be there if they need it. These measures will support federally regulated employees to take time off work in various scenarios. Should they require time to grieve, to address the severe psychological impact of the death of their child, to attend judicial proceedings or just to deal with psychological shock, the provisions will be available in the Canada Labour Code.
This legislation can only have a positive impact on workers in a great time of need. The measures in the bill will give Canadians a greater sense of security. We need to do everything we can to treat workers facing a personal crisis with compassion. I know employers will support these measures because they will be of crucial importance to the workers who need them.
I thank hon. members for their support of the bill. I trust that we will do the right thing and we will support the bill.