Madam Speaker, this is absolutely the right direction that we should be going in for women if we want and expect women to get into non-traditional fields, so I commend the member on introducing this bill. He has done an excellent job on his research, and I am fully behind it.
This bill would allow women 15 weeks of maternity benefits before their due dates in many jobs, not just welders or working in a toxic paint factory but a variety of jobs. When I was on maternity leave with my last child, I took a month off prior to the birth, because I was on my feet all the time and was having a lot of pain. Having that flexibility is really important.
Currently, as the member stated, eight weeks are available prior to the birth, but 15 weeks is better because different jobs affect people differently, whether it is toxic chemicals, paints and solvents, or pesticides in the agricultural field. All of those things have to be taken into consideration. It does not necessarily apply only to fields involving toxic substances or fields of non-traditional work. Many people may work long hours while standing. It could be a person working at Walmart who works at a cash register for eight hours a day. Doctors have said that standing all day can also harm babies and cause slower growth. I commend the member for introducing this legislation.
I sat on the human resources, skills and social development committee for parts of this bill, and I am concerned that the committee gutted sections concerning employment insurance. I know in budget 2017 the government included an additional 12 weeks rather than eight, but not the 15 weeks, as the member put forward. I had people explain to me that it is because a pregnancy may go longer. It is great to say that a pregnancy could go longer, but I know as a woman, as do others, that not a lot of pregnancies go longer than 50 weeks. They are usually 40 or 42 weeks, and that is when the doctor gets involved and performs a cesarean section or induces delivery. A woman will not be pregnant for as long as was said to me, so I do not know why the government felt it was necessary to reduce it from 15 to 12 weeks. I do not know why the government did that.
That being said, there is a provision that can be taken into consideration, which is more of a red tape issue that will have to be dealt with. Any person can take 15 weeks off in sick benefits. If a woman needed to take off those weeks, she could take up to 15 weeks of sick benefits. From reducing it from 15 to 12 weeks, the government has added an additional layer of red tape, because women would be required to go to Service Canada, present a doctor's note, and change it from sick benefits to maternity benefits. I am really questioning why the government needed to reduce that.
All it has done is put the onus back on mothers. When women are expecting their babies, the last thing they should have to worry about are financial concerns. They need to worry about preparing for the baby, making sure they have cribs and a bunch of other things, especially if they have other children. I wish the government had kept the 15 weeks, as the Conservatives and NDP supported in committee. However, it is 12 weeks in the budget. I support the 15 weeks, but, unfortunately, it was changed.
I sit on the status of women committee, where members talk about how they can make sure there is fairness and equity for women. A lot of it has to do with education and putting women in occupations that have higher earnings, but at the same time, we know some of those occupations are welding or construction jobs, things that may put pregnancies at risk. It is very important that women have that flexibility, and this is a great measure. We know that preterm births can occur if women try to work right up to their due dates, as well as high blood pressure. At any time, what is most important is to always consider the baby and the mother as paramount in the decision as we move forward.
When we talk about women, we need to recognize that equality does work when we have legislation like the one put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands. This is an excellent first step to job equality and equity for women.
We have seen many women try to get into positions in the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering, and math. If we want women to prevail, if we want women to have financial independence, having good-paying jobs is one way to do that. The government can assist with this by ensuring we have a balance between pay equity and equality for women, as well as rights for families. This is a great opportunity.
We also have to take into consideration that many mothers may have other children at home. Having those 15 weeks, potentially, would be very good. We need to understand that a woman may not only be lifting heavy loads at work, but she also may be having to lift a 40-pound two year old at home. We have to do anything we can do to prevent a preterm birth, anything we can do to prevent harm to any child. This bill has done a great job on that.
At the end of the day, we are very supportive of this. We want to see pay equity. We want to see good benefits from the federal government. There was a big discussion about whether the bill needed a royal recommendation. I come to the House, having dealt with employment insurance for 11 years. I feel I bring something that many of the members of Parliament are learning about and maybe becoming more aware of in their constituency work. Its really important that when we look at this, we ask ourselves what we can do. I have seen many women who needed to take time off work.
The need for royal recommendation seems to be silly to me. If a woman takes 15 weeks off before the birth, she will not be granted those additional weeks after. All we are doing is moving the range.
In the 2017 budget, there is the thought that women do go back to work early and may not take the entire parental leave portion of the maternity leave. Therefore, they may be using more benefits, if they are taking benefits prior to that. That may be a concern of the government, but we need to look at what is best for children, mothers, and families first.
I commend the member. This is an excellent bill. It is a great start for women's equity and equality in our country. I thank him for all the work he has done on this. I just wish it was the 15 weeks, as it was in the original bill.