Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to here on behalf of my riding of Saint John—Rothesay. As members know, I love my riding. It is an industrial riding and a union riding.
Just as important for our government is our commitment to help the middle class and those working hard to join it. To respect this commitment, we have to give all workers in the country an equal opportunity. The government recognizes that pregnancy should not be a barrier to full employment. We recognize that we must ensure workplace health and safety for pregnant workers.
The Canada Labour Code has provisions that guarantee safe working conditions to all workers in federally regulated sectors, including pregnant and nursing employees.
We also believe that pregnant workers should be able to benefit from more flexibility when the time comes to take their maternity leave. This is particularly true in cases where pregnant women have to stop working earlier than expected because of the risks their job could pose to their health or that of their babies.
I will take the few minutes I have to talk to the House about what our government is doing to help these workers, as well as their families, across the country. In particular, I would like to elaborate on the measures proposed in budget 2017 to increase the flexibility of El special benefits. The special benefits under the El program help parents balance work and family life.
Each year, this program helps thousands of eligible Canadians prepare and care for a new baby or take care of a family member who is critically ill. It is our responsibility to ensure that these measures remain appropriate and accessible for Canadian workers seeking to balance their professional careers and personal lives.
Let us start with parental benefits.
Starting a family presents certain challenges, especially for working parents. Measures set out in budget 2017 offer these parents flexibility. Parents will be able to choose the option that best suits their needs based on their work and family situation.
Under the proposed changes, parents will have two options. For the first option, which corresponds to the standard 35-week period for parental benefits, claimants can receive El parental benefits at the current rate of 55% of their average weekly earnings for a period of up to 12 months. For the second option, the extended 61-week parental benefits period, claimants can receive El parental benefits at a rate of 33% of their average weekly earnings over a period of 18 months.
These changes represent an investment of $152 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $27.5 million per year. In addition, parents can continue to share the benefits.
Moreover, we are proposing to allow pregnant women to apply for El maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their expected delivery date, if they wish to do so. This means more flexibility compared to the current standard of eight weeks. This additional flexibility is expected to amount to $43.1 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $9.2 million per year.
In budget 2017, we are also offering more support for caregivers. We are proposing the creation of a new El benefit for a period of up to 15 weeks. This new caregiver benefit will allow Canadians to care for an adult family member who is critically ill or injured.
These benefits would be provided to people caring for an adult family member who is critically ill but not at the end of life.
This is a first for employment insurance. We are very proud of this measure. I must add that this new benefit would supplement the existing compassionate care benefit for people caring for family members who are critically ill and in end-of-life situations.
Parents of critically ill children would continue to have access to up to 35 weeks of benefits. They would now be able to share these benefits with more family members.
For some time now, we have wanted to increase the flexibility of the different types of parental benefits to better respond to families' needs. We made sure to do this right. That is why we worked together with all of our partners. I am talking about Canadians and numerous stakeholders. Together we studied the possible changes to employment insurance. Most of all, we listened to people from coast to coast to coast, and the changes we are making are the ones people asked us to make.
Last fall, we held on-line consultations with Canadians. We asked them how they felt about the idea of offering more flexible EI maternity and parental benefits and leaves under the Canada Labour Code. We also asked them for their views on the idea of offering more inclusive caregiver benefits and leaves for Canadians caring for a family member. We also hosted a stakeholder round table last November. Among the participants were representatives of the medical community, health charities, family advocacy groups, unions, and business associations. We made a commitment to take measures to improve EI benefits, and that is what we are doing. These changes would ensure greater financial security for Canadian workers and their families when they need it the most.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that our government is making a real difference for workers, especially female workers, across Canada. We are taking this action because their well-being, health, and safety are of the utmost benefit and importance to us. Giving everyone an equal opportunity means the middle class and those working hard to join it will be better off.
I can certainly say first-hand from the riding of Saint John—Rothesay that the response to this bill has been outstanding. Workers who are thrilled with these proposed changes come into my office every week, and I am honoured again to speak to these changes on behalf of my riding of Saint John—Rothesay.