Mr. Speaker, today it is my pleasure to talk about employment insurance. My colleagues may not know this, but I am from a rural region, a remote region with lots of seasonal industries. Employment insurance is therefore a reality for many of my constituents. They would like to have other options, but that is a fact of life in my region.
I think that one of the most important parts of the motion is the one that would protect the employment insurance fund for good. People need to understand that the employment insurance fund is like a nest egg for workers. It is money they have saved. Employers contribute too. Workers and employers pay for the employment insurance fund. The government does not put money into it. Logically, the fund should belong to workers. The government should not be able to take whatever it wants from the fund to balance the budget, but that is what previous governments have done, unfortunately.
From 1998 to 2008, the Liberal and Conservative governments stole $57 billion from the employment insurance fund. Workers built up that fund with their hard-earned money, and employers contributed to it as well. Governments stealing $57 billion from the employment insurance fund is like parents who are unable to pay their bills and balance their budget deciding to raid their children's piggy bank to steal their children's hard-earned babysitting money or lawn-cutting money. Everyone agrees that stealing money from children to balance the budget does not make sense.
Being forced to do so shows a lack of financial capacity. We must secure the employment insurance fund once and for all, precisely to stop governments from dipping into it every time they have to balance their budget. This habit is totally unacceptable.
The fund is profitable, especially when we consider that $57 billion was stolen from it. The fund would be perfectly healthy if the government had not stolen that money. In 2016, the fund had a $3.3 billion surplus. The fund belongs to workers. It is there to protect them when they lose their jobs, and the government has to stop dipping into it. We must secure the fund once and for all. This is a priority for many people and many organizations that advocate for the rights of workers and the unemployed.
Access to employment insurance is another big problem. Currently, less than 40% of workers have access to it. The country has many workers, and out of all those who lose their jobs, only 40% manage to get benefits when they need them. This is an insurance plan. Is it normal for an insurance plan that is meant to cover job losses to pay out benefits in only 40% of cases? This makes absolutely no sense, especially when it is the workers who are making the contributions. We must ensure that the employment insurance fund is used to pay benefits to workers and help people when they are especially vulnerable.
We also have to talk about the two-week waiting period. This creates a very difficult situation. In addition to the two-week waiting period, when no money is coming in, there are other countless delays.
The former Conservative government massacred the employment insurance program and made it practically inaccessible. Furthermore, the processing times are outrageous.
People called my office to tell me that they still had not received an answer after three months. When you earn very little, you cannot survive without any income for three months.
Therefore, while they wait to find out if they qualify for employment insurance, most people are forced to take on debt, mainly by obtaining credit at very high interest rates using credit cards. These situations are unacceptable for our workers. The waiting period must be eliminated in order to provide better access to our employment insurance program and ensure that workers' security is not jeopardized when they lose their jobs.
We must also lower the eligibility rate. This rate, expressed as a number of hours, varies by region, which makes it discriminatory. For example, it can be difficult for people just starting their career to accumulate these hours. That is why we want to reduce this rate to 360 hours. Someone who works full time may not really have difficulty accumulating 360 hours, but if a worker cannot get a full-time job, it is difficult to accumulate the number of hours required, which can be quite high, to be eligible for employment insurance.
Many times people have come to see me to tell me that they do not have enough hours and that they have no recourse. I know that these are people who worked hard and tried as hard as they could to accumulate the proper number of hours, but were unable to do so. Often, it is because of their job and the nature of their employment.
Employment insurance needs to take into account the reality of workers. It is not the workers who are seasonal. It is the industry. Take farmers for example. They would like to work 12 months a year, but there comes a point where the snow begins to fall and hay will no longer grow. That is the reality. We cannot do anything about it. That is the way it is.
The tourism industry also has a season. We would like tourists to visit all year round, but that is not the case. We need to understand that it is not the workers who are seasonal but the industries. That is why we need to be able to support these workers; if we do not, our seasonal industries will be completely unable to find workers.
We also need to understand the reality for people who work on call. For example, orderlies who work in major hospitals start their careers working on call, until they have enough seniority to obtain a better, full-time position. At the beginning of their career, they will work on call and fill in for others, during summer holidays, for example. They will have significant periods of downtime. If we require these on-call workers to accept a job elsewhere, they will never gain enough seniority to obtain a full-time job.
This is key. We need to ensure that people who work on call and have very irregular work hours for the first two or three years of their career are not forced to accept another job elsewhere. Otherwise, they will never succeed in finding a secure job.
We also have to make sure that employment insurance takes regional realities into account. Forcing a worker who lives in one RCM to travel long distances to work in another RCM causes all kinds of problems, such as transportation and housing problems. It costs money. If a worker is forced to travel 100 km from home to earn 70% of his or her pay, and if we factor in higher child care, transportation, and other costs, people could end up losing money because of this increase. It makes no sense at all. The government has to understand regional realities and stop displacing workers.
Some jobs do not fit the mould. Some self-employed workers choose to contribute. When we are talking about employment insurance, we need to understand regional realities and not come up with laws that make no sense and do not take different employment circumstances into account. I think it is important to have an employment insurance system that meets workers' needs. Let us come up with a really good program once and for all rather than take a piecemeal approach to fixing it.