Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak about the employment insurance program.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
Our government is proud of this long-standing program that has offered support to Canadians in times of need for 80 years. When a Canadian loses their job through no fault of their own, the EI program is there. When a mother or father needs to care for their newborn child, or when someone needs to take care of a gravely ill family member, EI is there.
Since its creation in 1940, EI remains a pillar of Canada's social safety net. Today, I would like to talk about our continued support for workers through the employment insurance program.
Since 2015, our government has made a series of changes to the employment insurance program that benefit Canadian workers across the country. For example, we reversed the 2012 changes to the employment insurance program that specified the types of jobs that unemployed workers were expected to search for and accept. The long-standing requirements that claimants must search for and accept available work while on employment insurance will continue to be upheld. This change took effect on July 3, 2016.
In 2016, we also helped workers living in the regions most affected by low oil prices. We did that by temporarily extending the duration of EI regular benefits for all eligible claimants by five weeks in 15 targeted regions. Up to a maximum of 20 additional weeks were provided to long-tenured workers.
That same year, we announced that as of January 1, 2017, the waiting period for EI benefits would be reduced from two weeks to one week. Today, I am able to say that as of October 1, 2019, approximately 5 million claimants combined have benefited from this change.
Reducing the waiting period from two weeks to one week relieves the financial burden on claimants when they need it most.
In addition, about two-thirds of claimants return to work before they exhaust all of their weeks of benefit entitlement. As a result of the waiting period reduction, these claimants gain one extra week of benefits. In fact, it is estimated that this puts an additional $650 million in the pockets of Canadians annually.
The reduced waiting period applies to regular, sickness, maternity, parental, compassionate care, family caregiver, and fishing benefits. This means that Canadians in all workplaces are benefiting. The package of changes to the EI system does not stop there.
The new measures put in place also include eliminating new entrant and re-entrant rules to increase access to EI benefits, making permanent the working-while-on-claim rules and simplifying job search responsibilities for claimants. Let me provide a little more detail.
First, we amended the rules to eliminate the higher eligibility requirements that restricted access for new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market. Under the previous rules, new entrants and re-entrants to the labour market had to accumulate at least 910 hours of insurable employment before being eligible for employment insurance regular benefits.
As a result of the changes we have made since July 3, 2016, those who enter or re-enter the workforce are subject to the same eligibility requirements as other claimants in the region where they live, namely from 420 to 700 insurable hours.
Also, we made changes to working-while-on-claim rules, which help claimants stay connected to the job market and allow them to earn some additional income while receiving benefits. These improvements, which took effect August 2018, are that the 50¢-for-every-dollar-earned rule became a permanent part of the employment insurance program, and that the working-while-on-claim rules were extended to now apply to sickness and maternity benefits.
We are also helping seasonal workers through a new pilot project announced in August 2018. This pilot project provides up to an additional five weeks of EI regular benefits to eligible seasonal claimants in 13 targeted regions. It is estimated that 51,500 seasonal workers will benefit from this initiative each year.
Finally, we are supporting adult learners through skills boost. EI claimants now have more opportunities to go back to school to get the training they need to find new jobs without fear of losing their EI benefits. During our last mandate, we also improved conditions for workers.
Many Canadians are struggling to balance work, family and other personal responsibilities. That is why we brought in amendments to the Canada Labour Code to ensure a better work-life balance and to strengthen labour standards protections in federally regulated private sector workplaces.
In 2017, our government introduced legislation to give federally regulated workers the right to request flexible work arrangements, such as flexible start and finish times. Subsequently, in 2018, we introduced further amendments to support even greater flexibility in the workplace. Among these changes are new breaks and leaves, including personal leave of up to five days with three days' pay. This new leave can be used for, among other things, medical appointments or sick days, or to take a dependant to a medical appointment.
We also introduced leave for victims of family violence of up to 10 days with five days paid, and leave for traditional indigenous practices of up to five days unpaid.
Access to many existing leaves, including critical illness ?leave and reservist leave, was also improved by eliminating length of service requirements.
Also, changes were made to increase annual vacation entitlements, so that workers have more downtime to spend doing the things they love. These legislative changes came into force on September 1, 2019.
We know that many employees struggle to balance the demands of work and family due to lack of time and scheduling conflicts. These changes to the Canada Labour Code will provide better work-life balance.
Without a doubt, we are taking the necessary steps to support hard-working Canadians. The situation of every Canadian is unique with different family and work needs.
By making employment insurance benefits more flexible, more inclusive and easier to access, and by modernizing labour standards, we are providing hard-working Canadian families with more options to better balance their work and life responsibilities.