Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 59

Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Human Resources and Skills Development

Long-Tenured and Seasonal Workers

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. With respect to Employment Insurance, two weeks ago the government announced plans to reform the program to provide extended benefits for long-tenured workers. Can the leader please tell us how the government will include those who have not had the benefit of long-term employment in future EI reform?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for the question. It is similar to one asked yesterday by Senator Callbeck regarding EI.

Specifically with regard to Bill C-50, now in committee in the other place, it will provide support of five to twenty extra weeks of EI benefits for long-tenured workers in order to help them while they search for new employment. As I explained yesterday, the bill is specific and is meant to help people who have been in positions for a long time, who have paid into the Employment Insurance fund for a long time, and who through no fault of their own find themselves unemployed. We expect that once Bill C-50 is passed by both houses of Parliament — and, as we know, it is being pre-studied in this place — it will benefit 190,000 Canadians.

With regard to the specific question of future changes that could be made with regard to Employment Insurance, with this bill, by previously extending the Employment Insurance to five weeks, by having work-sharing agreements, and by participating in job retraining, the government has shown a considerable amount of flexibility and a willingness to hear new ideas in order to help our unemployed. Rather than speculating as to what we might do next, I would simply say that the government is always willing to dialogue and consult with people who have good suggestions for meaningful reform to our EI system so that unemployed people and those who may face unemployment get all the help they can from the government.

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, as we all know, first-time workers who lose jobs are suffering tremendously. Will the government consider any special program to reduce the minimum of 910 hours that first-time workers need in order to qualify for EI benefits?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I think we have had this debate before about the number of qualifying hours. I will not make such a commitment.

The changes the government has made to the EI system that were brought in by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development as part of our Economic Action Plan, now added to by Bill C-50 for long-tenured workers, have brought us a long way toward addressing the needs of unemployed Canadians. Obviously, this worldwide economic slowdown has affected employment. Even as the economy shows signs of recovery, we know that the employment picture will be the last to show signs of recovery.

As I just mentioned, the government moved in the right direction with job sharing. Job sharing has been tremendously successful. There are all kinds of third-party testaments from individuals who benefited and companies that have been able to maintain their workforce without laying people off, and that is across Canada.

It is not for me to say that we will change the number of hours required to work. There is a system that was brought into place by the previous government on a regional basis. At the moment, the moves we have already taken, plus this bill currently before Parliament, go a long way to address the concerns of the unemployed.