Mr. Speaker, today, I will speak to Bill C-220, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, and more specifically compassionate care leave.
As the Bloc Québécois critic for status of women and seniors, this is a subject that people come to me about on a regular basis. I will therefore talk about three aspects of it. First, I will talk about our party's position on this issue. Second, I will talk about the reason why seniors talk to me about this so much, and third, I will say a few words about the problems this creates for women.
I want to begin by saying that we agree with the principle of this bill. The Bloc Québécois has always felt it was important for workers to be able to maintain a healthy employment relationship and to not have to choose between two bad situations.
Taking care of a sick family member is already extremely hard. When that person dies, one can only imagine how the caregiver must have many mixed emotions, including guilt and sadness. Being forced to choose between one's job and providing end-of-life care for a loved one should never be an acceptable situation in Quebec, Canada or the provinces.
This bill, therefore, would give caregivers more leave before returning to work after the death of a loved one. This bill is actually very simple. It amends the Canada Labour Code such that people who take compassionate care leave can delay their return to work for a few days following the death of the loved one they were caring for. The bill is written to take into account the maximum number of weeks in the code for compassionate care leave, but it provides for additional days off based on the period between the beginning of the leave and the loved one's death.
Compassionate care leave enables people to take time off work and protect their jobs while caring for a loved one. The Canada Labour Code dictates how leave is granted and legal eligibility with respect to workers' rights. It is important to note that this leave is paid in accordance with the Employment Insurance Act.
That means an employer does not have to pay an employee who is not eligible for compassionate care leave special benefits but wants to take leave for that reason. In other words, there is no compassion.
Under subsection 206.3(2), “every employee is entitled to and shall be granted a leave of absence from employment of up to 28 weeks to provide care or support to a family member of the employee if a health care practitioner issues a certificate stating that the family member has a serious medical condition with a significant risk of death within 26 weeks” from the day the certificate is issued or the day the leave was commenced.
There is currently no provision in the code for paid compassionate care leave. In other words, someone who is not eligible for employment insurance may take 28 weeks of compassionate care leave, but at their own expense.
Let us talk about EI special benefits for compassionate care leave. Workers can take the 28 weeks of unpaid compassionate care leave under the Canada Labour Code, but the code also allows workers to take leave under the Employment Insurance Act. EI benefits have different criteria than EI regular benefits and refer to very specific situations, namely parental leave, maternity leave, sick leave, caregiver leave and compassionate care leave.
The difference between the EI caregiving benefit and the compassionate care leave benefit is that for the latter, the person being cared for has a medical certificate stating that he or she is likely to die within the next six months.
To get the employment insurance compassionate care benefit in 2020, a worker has to have 600 hours of work to receive benefits totally 55% of their average weekly salary for a maximum of $573 a week. A family member of someone who is seriously sick or injured, or a person at the end of life, sees their regular weekly salary reduced by more than 40% for a least a week because they have to be away from work to care for or support the person. A doctor or nurse practitioner has to attest that the person being cared for is seriously sick or injured or needs end-of-life care.
COVID-19 changes things. On August 20, 2020, the federal government decided to relax the criteria for the EI program, including special benefits for caregivers that include compassionate leave. For a one-year period, the government has reduced the number of hours workers need to 120, regardless of the employment insurance region or the employment insurance program where they apply. It is therefore providing a 480-hour credit to workers who wish to receive a special benefit. In this case it is for a compassionate leave. However, effective September 27, 2020, new EI claimants will need only 120 hours of insurable employment to receive at least $400 a week, if that amount is higher than their benefits. The benefits will vary between $400 and $573, but the Canada Labour Code allows workers to take these 28 weeks at their own expense.
Workers who are eligible for compassionate care benefits can receive them for a maximum of 26 weeks. If they have to be away for 28 weeks, they will receive benefits for only 26 weeks, and the other two weeks must be taken at their own expense.
The bill introduced by the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup increases the leave taken under the Canada Labour Code by only a few days and therefore does not increase the duration of the EI caregiving benefits. This is all very technical. The important thing to remember is that caregivers need additional time to grieve. It is a matter of dignity.
The bill is directed at family caregivers who provide end-of-life care for a loved one. The Bloc Québécois has always believed that family caregivers play a crucial and central role both in the lives of the people they support and for society as a whole.
Many groups are calling on the government to finally recognize the importance of their role. One of those groups is Quebec's Appui, which advocates for better access to resources and improved quality of life. The pandemic has taken a toll on caregivers' finances. In Quebec, more than a quarter of caregivers, 26%, work and are therefore especially vulnerable because they have to make sure they bring in at least some income while caring for their loved one.
According to a CIBC survey, Canadians who help care for a loved one spend an average of $430 per month to do so. Three-quarters say they have had to make financial sacrifices. According to other sources, such as the Regroupement des aidants naturels du Québec, an association of caregivers in Quebec, caregivers spend more like $7,600 per year per loved one, regardless of their initial income level. As a result, 20% of caregivers experience financial insecurity.
According to Appui's 2016 survey of caregivers for seniors in Quebec, 1.5 million people reported providing at least one hour of care a week, and 2.2 million people provided care or emotional support for a loved one or helped them go to appointments, shop for groceries or fill out paperwork.
One of the main problems is that about one-third of caregivers, around 500,000 adults, who provide at least one hour of care a week do not recognize themselves as caregivers. The same is true for the one-fifth of caregivers who provide more than 10 hours of care a week. According to that same survey, 65% of caregivers cited a lack of knowledge of existing resources as the main reason for not accessing services. According to the Regroupement des aidants naturels du Québec and Quebec's department of health and social services, 85% of senior care is provided by caregivers. For example, for someone who requires 22 hours of care, 16.5 of those hours are provided by a caregiver and just 45 minutes are provided by local community service centres.
Caregivers are faced with a lack of resources regarding home care, wait times for long-term care beds, wait times for specialized resources for children with disabilities, wait times for palliative care, and fragmented care.
In 2012, 26.6% of family caregivers provided care, most of them at least once a week, according to Quebec's statistics institute. It would cost between $4 billion and $10 billion and would require the hiring of 1.2 million full-time professionals to cover the hours worked by caregivers.
Caregivers are mostly women, as was confirmed by such groups as the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale and FADOQ. Last summer, these groups appeared before the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for its study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women.
In closing, I will say this. The Bloc Québécois no longer wants the tax credit to be fully non-refundable. In a previous life, I was a project manager responsible for raising awareness of elder abuse and bullying. I spoke with groups of caregivers, and I could sense their exhaustion. I was told that after giving so much time and energy to help a person, it was difficult to get over their death. Caregivers live through trying circumstances, and they need time off. A few additional days is not much, but it could make a difference to them. The question is not whether we will become caregivers, but when.
For all these reasons, we must take action. The bill is a small step, but it means a lot to caregivers. It is a matter of dignity.