Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for raising this issue of employment insurance, particularly as it relates to workers in seasonal industries. I am proud to stand before the House and remind my hon. colleague about the good work our government is doing on this front.
I am proud to stand before the House and remind my hon. colleague about the good work that our government is doing on this front.
Our EI program delivers approximately $18 billion in benefits to nearly two million Canadians annually. It is one of the most important programs that make up the core of our social support system. Canadians benefit from an employment insurance program that is dynamic and designed to respond automatically to the changes in an EI economic region's unemployment rate. This helps to ensure that people residing in similar labour markets are treated fairly, with the amount of assistance provided adjusting according to the changing regional economic conditions.
In regions and communities right across Canada, our El program is providing income security for our families and workers during periods of unemployment. Since taking office, we have made it our duty to improve the employment insurance program so that it remains relevant for Canadian workers, including seasonal workers, and better corresponds to the reality of today's labour market. For example, we eliminated some of the restrictive El eligibility requirements for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour force, and we simplified job search responsibilities for the claimants. We also reduced the El waiting period from two weeks to one week. Shortening this waiting period eases the financial strain for El claimants at the beginning of a claim, and we expect this move to put an additional $650 million into the pockets of Canadians annually.
We are also saving Canadians money through reduced El premiums paid by workers and employers. In fact, the 2017 and 2018 rates are the lowest since 1982. In the fall of 2018, eligible Canadian workers who lose their jobs after several years in the workforce will have more opportunities to upgrade their skills without losing El benefits.
Most recently, we implemented new El measures that support Canadian families through more flexible maternity and parental benefits and more inclusive caregiving benefits as well. These improvements came into effect on December 3, 2017, and provide enhanced support for Canadian families.
Furthermore, as part of budget 2018, we are proposing legislation to make the default rules of the current working while on claim pilot project permanent and expand it to sickness and maternity claimants, who currently have their benefits reduced dollar for dollar if they earn income while on benefit claim. The working while on claim rules help claimants stay connected to the labour market by encouraging them to accept available work and earn some additional income while still receiving El benefits. By working while on claim, seasonal claimants can also accumulate hours toward establishing their next El claim.
These are just some of the ways we have taken action to improve employment insurance so that more Canadians, including unemployed workers in seasonal industries, get the help they need when they need it.
These are just some of the ways we have taken action to improve employment insurance so that more Canadians, including workers in seasonal industries, get the help they need, when they need it.
As was announced in budget 2018, we have reallocated $10 million from existing departmental resources to provide immediate and direct income support and training to affected workers. The government has signed agreements with the governments of the most affected provinces to deliver this funding directly to people, and provinces will have flexibility to deliver a wide range of supports, including career counselling, workplace essential skills training, and associated income supports while on training.
Budget 2018 also proposes to invest $80 million in 2018-19 and $150 million in 2019-20 through labour market development agreements with key provinces to co-develop local solutions that can be tested to support workforce development. These measures will help ensure that unemployed workers in Canada's seasonal industries have access to the supports they need when they need them most.