Yes, I am truly proud to work with her, and I am proud to be a young female parliamentarian. If Bill C-345 were to pass, it would benefit other women facing other difficulties in high-risk work environments.
As my Conservative colleague said, passing this bill would improve working conditions for women in jobs involving pipelines and chemicals or flight attendants who have to spend long hours on their feet, allowing them to carry a pregnancy to term and even to continue caring for their child by nursing. My NDP colleague is keeping up the fight, which is very commendable. Even though it is hard for her right now, she is fighting for women in even tougher situations, so those women can keep working and living with dignity while being mothers.
I believe that being a woman should never be a disadvantage, a source of stress, or a reason to live in precarious conditions.
As my colleague, the member from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, already stated in one of his speeches, “In Quebec, we often boast about how we are more progressive, but that is not always true and has not always been the case.”
Women got the right to vote in 1940. Ever since, women have been fighting for full recognition of their rights. Many battles later, they won meaningful recognition of their equality.
Women in Quebec had to wait until 1979 for a maternity leave program for working women. In 2000, women marched to let the world know that they were still fighting for equality and fairness for all women. That fight is not over yet. When a woman chooses to carry a pregnancy to term, it is not because she fears the future, but rather because she is betting on the future, and hoping for a promising future for her child. She wants a better world for the new life growing inside her.
Perhaps it is time for all of us to bet on Canada's future by protecting the health of mothers and their children. That is why we are debating my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue's Bill C-345 today.
The current Liberal government certainly likes to brag about being feminist, about how it wants to move forward with equity legislation and support work-life balance. This would be a very tangible step it could take toward promoting work-life balance and the integration of women into the workplace.
Bill C-345 amends the Canada Labour Code to authorize the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to enter into an agreement with the government of a province or territory that provides for the application, to pregnant or nursing employees, of certain provisions of the provincial legislation concerning occupational health and safety. We have maternity leave because unions fought for it, and not that long ago either. In 1971, the federal government expanded what was then called the unemployment insurance system to include maternity leave benefits equivalent to 66% of the mother's salary for a limited period of 15 weeks.
Subsequently, unions began pushing for longer maternity leave and a higher proportion of salary. They also began negotiating guarantees that women could return to the same job they had prior to their maternity leave, as well as paternity leave and leave for adoptive parents.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, at the beginning of the 1960s, just over 30% of women aged 20 to 30 participated in the Canadian labour force. By the end of the 1970s, that number had doubled to just over 60%. In 2012, over 70% of young women were participating in the labour force, and today, 70% of mothers with children under five years of age are working. We still have some work to do.
As early as 1979, Quebec's Common Front, representing government, education and health workers, negotiated 20 weeks of fully paid maternity, 10 weeks' leave when parents adopted a child, and five days of paternity leave. These are just some examples that have led to our current system. Maternity and parental leave are hard-won gains, and they must be extended in order to better help women get back into the workforce.
The federal government has now decided to allow women to take 18 months of maternity leave, as my Liberal colleague was saying, but the extended leave comes with a significant reduction in income, since an employee will go from receiving 55% of her income for the first 15 weeks to getting 33% for the rest of the leave. That makes it very difficult to support the family and for single-parent families, living conditions often become very tough. Women, who earn even less money than men, end up living in poverty. That is not what I call creating the best possible conditions for a mother and child's long-term health.
The program in Quebec is more generous with weekly benefits of $900 compared to $543 from the federal program. If Bill C-345 passes and a province decides to offer a program that is better than the current federal measures, or if a province improves an existing program, the Minister of Labour would have the authority to establish a new agreement or amend the existing agreement to include the new benefit.
The federal government has to lead by example and encourage the provinces to improve this system. Canadians could then choose which program suits them best. Bill C-345 reinforces the notion that women should not have to choose between putting their health or that of their child at risk by continuing to work or losing their salary to protect themselves. Bill C-345 can protect women who work in high-risk environments and motivate employers to make accommodations to allow women to continue working when they are pregnant or nursing.
This bill also puts forth an amenable means of delivering the best possible care to women by giving the Minister of Labour the ability to consult provincial governments in order to decide whether the provincial or federal maternity benefits package will better suit constituents on a province-by-province basis.
Bill C-345 is able to provide equal pregnancy benefits to all pregnant and nursing employees across a given province once an agreement is reached between the provincial or territorial government and the Minister of Labour, regardless of whether their job falls under federal or provincial jurisdiction.
I have had the experience of being a working, nursing mother. It was a very demanding time, and my job did not involve being in an environment that would put my health or my daughter's at risk. Indeed, I was working here, in Parliament, a position I consider myself very fortunate to have been in, and I am quite aware that not everyone is as lucky as I was. Not all women have that peace of mind, and I cannot imagine the stress of being a new mother who has to learn to cope with a new baby and deal with returning to work in an environment that puts her health and that of her child at risk.
Bill C-345 also promotes greater equality between men and women in Canada and greater equality among women. It strengthens existing laws and helps men and women while making our society more productive. By helping men and women better juggle family and work responsibilities after a child is born, and by protecting women's place in the workforce, we will see our existing businesses grow stronger and new ones being created.
Both sides of the House have contributed to the development of this bill. I want to take this opportunity to thank the members for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and Abitibi—Témiscamingue for their monumental efforts. I hope the Liberals will have a change of heart and realize how important this bill is to all women working in high-risk occupations.