Madam Speaker, each day seems more like the last. For the past two days, we have been debating private members' bills that directly affect the status of women. I am therefore pleased to once again rise in support of this cause.
At the same time, I feel a little bit resentful because, yesterday, there was an excellent bill on the table that would have quickly implemented essential conditions for ensuring gender equity in the House. However, as we saw from today's vote, a majority of parliamentarians decided that it was not yet time for us to achieve gender equality.
The bill before us today obviously does not deal with gender equality because it talks about pregnancy. However, we need to ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly.
As a Quebec MP, I am doubly proud to speak to this bill because Quebec has long led the way on this issue. I also think that the federal government should follow its lead because I find it unacceptable that women in my province who do similar work are treated so differently depending on whether their jobs are governed by the Quebec Labour Code or the Canada Labour Code.
The member for Kingston and the Islands' bill is a sign of just how long and drawn-out the battle for gender equality in the job market is. That battle has not yet been won, though much ground has been gained over the years.
Despite their skills, their experience, and even their knowledge, many women still work under less favourable conditions and for less pay than men doing the same work. In 2016, that is totally unacceptable. It has been unacceptable for a long time now, but the problem has to be fixed one day.
For example, I toured a community in my riding where women clearly held more jobs than men.
For instance, the Liberal tax reduction program will not help most of these women, because in the community services sector, a salary of $45,000 or more is extremely rare. As a result, women are often penalized on every level.
Bill C-243 raises the issue of women's working conditions and proposes creating a federal strategy to protect the health of pregnant and nursing women who work in high-risk occupations. Under this legislation, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour would be tasked with conducting a series of consultations with her federal colleagues and provincial counterparts to set out the parameters of a new program for women, another consultation from the same government that, two weeks prior to October 2015, told us that it had a plan for just about everything.
I think the time for consultation is over. If consultations had been done before this bill was introduced, we could have benefited from what I call best practices. The Quebec model is an excellent example of this.
Of course we must examine the spirit and the letter of the bill, as we do when studying the text of any collective agreement or law. It is definitely difficult to oppose the spirit of this bill. I often say that it is difficult to be against virtue and apple pie. Most people agree with that. However, this bill has significant flaws, which I hope will be addressed if it is referred to a committee.
In fact, the bill only shifts the maternity leave that a woman can take. The difference is that instead of being able to leave eight weeks before the due date, she can leave 15 weeks before. We are taking the same period of time and allowing women to move it around. Nevertheless, it is a start.
This does not make a big difference, especially if a woman has to leave work early for her own safety or that of her unborn child, because she has exactly the same number of weeks. She would just be cutting short the time she could devote to this new relationship after the child is born.
Everyone knows that. All the analyses, all psychologists agree on how important a mother's presence is in the first weeks, months, and even years of a child's life.
What is worse is that, in order for a pregnant woman to benefit from this measure, she must be eligible for employment insurance, and therein lies the rub.
Who are the people in our society who have the most difficulty getting employment insurance benefits? It is women. Most often who are the ones with precarious jobs? Again, it is women. Who are the ones who get fewer hours of work or split-schedules in a work week? Again, it is women.
With the Conservatives' employment insurance reforms, which have not all been reviewed and corrected by the Liberals, only about 39% of people who contribute to employment insurance are able to get benefits when they need them. Again, I would like to remind members that women find it harder to meet the EI eligibility requirements than men.
Again, our proposal, for which we are still awaiting a response from the Liberals, was on qualifying for employment insurance and was quite simple. I think that instating a universal standard of 360 hours to qualify for employment insurance will help many people, including quite a few women who might, by extension, benefit from the bill we are talking about here today.
I would also like to make the link between the bill that the NDP introduced and the one being introduced by the Liberals. Although this bill gives the impression that the Liberals are trailblazers, we must remember that when they were in the opposition, the Liberals joined forces with the Conservatives to vote against an NDP proposal introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie that raised the same issues. Our bill sought to allow pregnant and nursing women who work in federally regulated businesses in Quebec to have the same benefits provided under Quebec's safe maternity experience program.
Talk about best practices. The Liberal government would do well to take its cue from the safe maternity experience program. Better still, if the Liberal government were to follow that lead, the member who introduced this private member's bill could convince his own caucus to walk the talk by making it a government bill complete with the necessary funding.
I should note that the main objective of Quebec's program is to keep pregnant and nursing women working safely. There is a big difference. The main objective is not to secure employment insurance benefits or preventive withdrawal. The main objective is to keep women in the workplace but under working conditions that do not pose a risk to their health or that of their unborn child. Quebec's safe maternity experience program is a preventive program for pregnant or nursing workers that is designed to keep women at work safely.
The Speaker is telling me that I have just one minute left, so I will say no more about the Quebec program. Everyone can read up on it because it is an existing program.
As a final point, we in the NDP appreciate the spirit of the bill. However, what ultimately happens with this bill will depend on the consultations conducted by the government. Those consultations have not yet begun, as far as I know.
Even if the government passes this bill, it will be too early to determine whether the final product of this strategy will be worthwhile.
As the member for Trois-Rivières, I urge the government to take the necessary steps to bring the federal legislation in line with Quebec's workplace health and safety legislation, so that women working in Quebec have access to the same rights and protections, regardless of the jurisdiction they fall under.
I am sorry I do not have time to say more. I thank my colleagues for their attention.