Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my great riding of Saint John—Rothesay, I am very pleased to stand in the House today to speak about the proposed legislation to amend the Canada Labour Code with regard to preventive withdrawal provisions for federally related workers who are pregnant or nursing. This is known in the House as Bill C-345.
The bill would add a new section to part II of the Canada Labour Code to allow the minister to enter into agreements with the provincial government to give pregnant or nursing employees under federal jurisdiction access to certain provisions of provincial health and safety legislation. The Canada Labour Code currently contains provisions that allow a pregnant or nursing employee to be reassigned, or have her job modified without loss of pay or benefits if there is a risk to her health, the fetus, or the child. If a reassignment is not possible, the woman may take a leave of absence for the duration of the risk.
Labour code job protection for maternity leave varies across the country. Bill C-345 proposes that the federal government enter into agreements with provinces that have provisions related to preventive withdrawals that are at least as favourable to the employee as those in the federal legislation. Currently only Quebec specifically offers preventive withdrawal job protection with wage replacement for pregnant and nursing women.
In Quebec, if a pregnant or nursing employee must stop working because of a health risk to herself, her fetus, or her child, and if her employer is not able to reassign her to another job, this employee is entitled to a preventive withdrawal leave with wage replacement equivalent to 90% of net insurable earnings. The maximum annual insurable earnings are set at $67,500. Bill C-345 would represent a number of challenges which would have to be taken into consideration as we examine this proposed legislation. Among these challenges, applying provincial legislation to federally regulated workers in this area would create a situation where federally regulated employees working in Quebec would be treated differently than those in other provinces.
It is important to note that implementing Bill C-345 would involve increased costs to employers in Quebec, who could be required to pay additional premiums under Quebec's Commission de la Santé et de la Sécurité du travail. It is also worth mentioning that a review of Quebec's preventive withdrawal program in 2010 identified a number of concerns regarding its operation and scope, and recommended that the program be refocused on its original workplace health and safety objectives.
There are strong measures currently in place in the Canada Labour Code to protect pregnant and nursing employees. The government understands that at certain points in their lives, workers may also have to take time away from their jobs because of the circumstances or demands of their personal lives. Caring for a new child or providing care to a family member who is gravely ill are a couple of examples. This is when the employment insurance program helps eligible Canadians by providing the income support they need, allowing them to focus on what matters most. With budget 2017, we are helping working parents to better face the challenges that come with a growing family.
Budget 2017 proposes to make EI parental and maternity benefits more flexible. This is being received very well in my riding of Saint John—Rothesay. Parents would be able to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work, family, and child care circumstances. Under the changes, parents would have two options: receiving EI parental benefits over a period of up to 12 months at the existing benefit rate of 55% of their average weekly earnings, or over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. Parents would continue to be able to share these benefits. Budget 2017 provisions also propose allowing pregnant women to claim their EI maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, up from the previous eight weeks, if they so choose.
This additional flexibility would allow pregnant women to access EI maternity benefits and leave earlier than before. Again, in my riding, that change is going over very well.
I want to emphasize that these improvements were guided by last year's consultations on EI maternity, parental, and caregiver benefits. We held an online consultation, hosted round tables with stakeholders, and we sought their views in providing more flexible EI maternity and parental benefits, and leaves under the Canada Labour Code, as well as more inclusive caregiving benefits and leaves for Canadians who provide care to a family member.
It was essential for us to consult with all of our partners and stakeholders, especially Canadians directly. The reason is simple: amending the Employment Insurance Act is a complex endeavour, and we want to make sure that we do it right. The consultations with key partners were to help ensure that the program better responds to the needs of hard-working Canadian families.
In budget 2017, we have also proposed measures to help workers find the right balance between their work, family, and other personal responsibilities.
Amendments to the Canada Labour Code would ensure that federally regulated employees have the right to request flexible work arrangements, such as flexible start and finish times, as well as the ability to work from home. The amendments would also provide employees with new unpaid leaves for family responsibilities, the ability to participate in traditional indigenous practices, to seek care if they are the victim of family violence, and make bereavement leave more flexible.
In closing, our government is committed to supporting workers, and this starts with making sure that federally regulated workers are protected from harm in the workplace. Preventive withdrawal provisions in the Canada Labour Code emphasize work modifications in job reassignments so that women can continue to work in a safe environment. These provisions ensure that women can continue to participate in the labour force through the many measures put forward in our recent budget.