"For a long time, we have said that the current program does not adequately cover the needs of workers during these periods of their lives. We hope the government is listening to what we have to say." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (03 Nov. 2016) — The Canadian Labour Congress has offered a labour perspective to the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development about the Employment Insurance parental and compassionate care leaves.
Any changes to EI special leaves must reduce inequality
The federal government has begun online consultations with Canadians regarding possible changes to the system but has restricted the discussion to a very narrow set of options.
The CLC and its affiliates, including the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), see these potential changes as a way to reduce the inequality that currently exists in the EI system. The CLC has communicated several suggestions to the Minister and has requested a meeting to discuss them further.
"We are pleased to see the government undertaking a review of the EI maternity and parental leave provisions," said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. "For a long time, we have said that the current program does not adequately cover the needs of workers during these periods of their lives. We hope the government is listening to what we have to say."
Quebec maternity and parental program a model to emulate
Research has shown that the design of Quebec's maternity and parental leave program is much more effective at reaching low-income families than what currently exists in Canada.
Hassan Youseff, CLC President writes in his letter to the Minister, "We think all 3 elements of Quebec's plan help to reduce inequality, and would like to see similar elements implemented under the EI maternity and parental leave program."
The federal government is being called upon to:
- reduce the entrance requirement for all special benefits to 300 hours, and consider extending the eligibility period from 1 year to 5 years,
- implement 8 weeks of ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ parental leave for a second parent or caregiver,
- implement a 70 per cent replacement rate for maternity and second parent leave, and establish a minimum amount for all parental leaves that is not less than a full-time minimum wage, and
- work with the provinces and territories to implement a national child care strategy to alleviate the real problem that an 18 month leave is attempting to address.
CLC warns of possible unintended consequences of changes that may harm workers
The Congress also commented on the government's National Maternity Assistance Program Strategy Act as it "does not provide any additional benefits to mothers in need of protective reassignment, or any incentives for employers to find safer work for pregnant employees."
The idea of reducing the waiting period for EI benefits from 2 weeks to 1 week has been welcomed by the CLC but the Congress has a warning about 2 unintended consequences of this change:
- extra week of benefits generally goes to people returning to work so they are least in need of this help,
- workers who have negotiated a top-up from employers for the 2-week waiting period will now have one less week of paid leave.
Ideally, the CLC suggests that the federal government add a week of paid EI benefits to special leaves to make up for the loss during the waiting period and allow workers to choose a 1-week or 2-week waiting period to provide more flexibility for workers.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE