Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the opposition bill, Bill C-345. I am pleased the bill was put forward by my colleague for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. The bill is very similar to one that was tabled in the House back in the last Parliament.
I think all members in the House share the opinion, the will, and the want of ensuring that pregnant and nursing employees are safe and supported in the workforce, as they should be.
The bill proposes to allow the Government of Canada to enter into an agreement with provinces that provide for the application of provincial preventative withdrawal provisions that are at least as favourable to the employee as those in federal legislation. It would create uneven treatment of federally regulated workers across Canada. The bill would add a new section to part II of the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant or nursing employee under the federal jurisdiction to access certain provisions of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.
Right off the bat, I would like to emphasize three things. The bill would not improve safety for workers. It would have unintended consequences of employers absolving their duty to keep their pregnant and nursing employees in the workforce through reassignment or modification. Of particular note, currently no other province has such a wage replacement program.
How we make changes to the Canada Labour Code is an important consideration in this debate.
Our government believes in a fair and balanced labour law, and fair and balanced labour laws are created through a tripartite process when it comes to amending the Canada Labour Code. This process has served stakeholders in the federal jurisdiction well over the decades, including employers, labour, and government.
Although I applaud the member for wanting to improve protections for pregnant and nursing workers, those workers, and all workers, in the federal jurisdiction would be better served to support the process that has helped create the Canada Labour Code, which provides some of the best protections for workers in our country.
Members of the House know provisions already exist in the Canada Labour Code to protect the health and safety of all federally regulated workers, including pregnant and nursing employees. At the moment, employees under this federal jurisdiction, no matter where they live, may request from an employer a reassignment or modification of a job function based on medical advice.
My second point focuses on the fact that the federal legislation emphasizes work modifications and job reassignments so employees can continue the work in a safe environment. This is important. I would like to stress that employers have a responsibility in ensuring that their workplaces accommodate pregnant and nursing employees. The employer's role is a key part of the discussion, which has been absent from this debate.
Work modifications and job reassignments ensure that women can continue to participate in the labour force throughout their pregnancy. This should always be a priority. If, however, a reassignment or modification of a job function is in no way possible, employees may take a leave of absence, as a last resort, for the duration of the risk and benefit from the existing job protections under the code.
I would like to highlight that the current system under the Canada Labour Code is working. There are very few complaints associated with the current federal approach to preventative withdrawal. Over the past 10 years, only 14 complaints have been received, with only three of those judged to be founded following investigation.
The province of Quebec offers a similar provision for pregnant or nursing workers, providing them with the right to request reassignment to other duties or, if that is not possible, to take leave if their working conditions may be physically dangerous to their health or that of their fetus or nursing child.
Canada is a federation of 14 different jurisdictions. It is important that all workers who are regulated by the federal Canada Labour Code are treated fairly and equally, regardless of the province in which they work. Providing access to salary replacement benefits only to certain federal employees is unfair to employees working in other provinces and territories.
For example, an airline pilot or flight attendant working for a company like WestJet or Air Canada in Alberta should have the same rights as a pilot or attendant working for the same company in Quebec. These considerations should be taken into account as we examine this bill's implications more closely.
This bill would only benefit federally regulated workers in Quebec, since it is the only province that specifically offers preventative withdrawal job protection with wage replacement for those impacted. In Quebec, if a pregnant or nursing employee must stop working because of a health risk to her, her fetus, or her child, and if the employer is not able to reassign her, this employee is entitled to preventative withdrawal leave with a wage replacement equivalent to 90% of insurable earnings.
Our government takes the physical and mental health safety of all workers extremely seriously. In budget 2017, we announced new compliance and enforcement measures for occupational health and safety and labour standards. These measures include monetary penalties and administrative fees for employers who routinely violate legislation, the authority to publicly name violators, strengthened powers for inspectors, new recourse against reprisal, and improvements to the wage recovery process. The budget also proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code to give federally regulated workers the right to request flexible work arrangements.
These and other budget 2017 measures will help workers to better balance professional and personal responsibilities, such as caring for a spouse going through medical treatment or for an aging family member. This will benefit workers and their families.
We know that new and growing families across this country need support to help balance work and the needs of their families. One of the first actions we took as a government was introducing the Canada child benefit, which puts more money in the pockets of nine out of 10 families, helping lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.
Through budget 2017, we are improving the employment insurance program to help working parents face the challenges that come with a growing family. Parents will have two options: receiving El parental benefits over a period of 12 months at the existing rate of 55%, or receiving them over an extended period of up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings. Additionally, if they choose, pregnant women will be allowed to claim El maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before their due date, up from the previous eight weeks.
Our government also amended the Canada Labour Code to ensure that workers in federally regulated sectors have the job protection they need while receiving caregiving, parental, or maternity benefits.
Let me be clear. This government is working to ensure that women across this country are supported in the workforce. Women from coast to coast to coast can depend on this government to fight for their rights and inclusion. We are taking concrete action to support women in Canadian workplaces. We introduced union training innovations, which support and recruit women in trades. We are working hard on building a proactive pay equity regime. The legislation will be tabled in 2018. We are supporting female students in STEM and business through work placements.
In conclusion, trying to improve one aspect of the Canada Labour Code for workers should not lead to inequitable treatment for others. If the central goal of this bill is to improve the protections and supports for pregnant and nursing employees working in the federal jurisdiction, those protections and supports should be the same for every mother across this country, irrespective of the province in which they live.
Labour laws are very complicated, and making changes to them can lead to unintended consequences. That is why we, as a government, are very supportive of the tripartite process. When changes in the code are made, that is what should be exercised. That is why we are unable to support this legislation.