Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Science and Technology
Issue 6 - Evidence - Evening
OTTAWA, Thursday, June 6, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-12, respecting employment insurance in Canada, met this day at 2:30 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Upon resuming at 6:50 p.m.
The Chair: Honourable senators, we have with us tonight Stella Lord from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Welcome to the committee. We are pleased to have you here. Please proceed.
Ms Stella Lord, Researcher, Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women: I should like to say how pleased I am to be able to be here to make this presentation. I should also like to say that the paper that we sent to the Senate committee is actually an expanded and edited version of a brief that we presented verbally to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.
I apologize that we have not had the time or the resources to prepare a separate brief for the Senate hearings, so I will address some specific issues in the longer brief. Specifically, I will address the three issues that I have raised in the brief, but I will not read the whole brief.
The first issue is the hours-based system and its likely impact on part-time workers, in particular women. The second issue is the problem of how benefits are to be calculated under the new legislation and its impact on those who are in unstable and seasonal employment. The third issue is the proposed family income supplement. I should like to address some of the implications of its assumptions.
The proposed employment insurance legislation proposes moving from a weeks-based system to an hours-based system. This means that entrance requirements, length of claim and benefit levels will depend on the number of hours worked in a specified period rather than the number of weeks worked. In addition, it proposes making all work insurable, including work under 15 hours a week.
It is expected that with these changes the percentage of insurable workers in Canada will increase from 92 per cent to 97 per cent. An additional 500,000 part-time workers will pay insurance premiums. More than half of these will be women - the estimate is 270,000 - because more women than men work part time. We must remember that only about 50 per cent of employed workers now collect insurance benefits. It is anticipated that under the new legislation, this per cent will decline to below 50 per cent. For example, it is estimated that only about 40,000 of those newly insured employees will actually become eligible for benefits.
Including more part-time workers in the insurance system is in itself not a bad idea. As in other parts of Canada, Nova Scotia has experienced a dramatic increase in part-time employment over the past two decades.
While women are more likely than men to choose part-time employment because of family and other responsibilities, many part-time workers, including women, are working in part-time jobs involuntarily. For example, just under half of all part-time workers in Nova Scotia are working part-time involuntarily.
Approximately 34 per cent of women in Canada were in this situation in 1993. This was up from 20 per cent in 1989. This high level of involuntary part-time employment among women and men demonstrates the extent of under-employment which is not being calculated in the employment statistics at the present time.
It also appears to me to run counter to the prevailing assumptions in the employment insurance legislation - that is, that individuals can increase their hours of work if they want to do so.
In this context, and because of the current political and economic climate of restructuring and downsizing, part-time workers clearly need better access to income security through unemployment insurance. Therefore, the inclusion of more part-time workers in the insurance system could potentially be a step in the right direction. However, we have serious concerns about using the hours-based system rather than the existing weeks-based system to qualify for benefits. We are also concerned about the increasing qualifying period for new entrants to the labour force.
Because the number of hours required to qualify will be based on the equivalent of between 12 and 20 work weeks, 35 hours in length, many part-time workers will be paying premiums - some for the first time - but will not be able to claim benefits unless they increase their hours of work. We already know that many people are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work.
For example, in so-called low unemployment areas like Halifax, workers will need the equivalent of nearly 600 hours to qualify for employment insurance. A woman working 15 hours a week, which is the level below which we want to include more insurance, will have to work more than 40 weeks before she qualifies for employment insurance. Under the present UI system, she needs only 17 weeks. For a new entrant to the labour force such as a graduating student or a woman returning to the labour market, the qualifying period will be even higher because she will be required to work the equivalent of 26 weeks before qualifying for benefits.
While some part-time workers will have to work longer to quality for benefits, those who are unable to increase their hours of work and/or who only work part of the year may never qualify for benefits. The government itself implicitly recognizes this in its proposal to rebate premiums for those earning under $2,000 per annum and who have almost no chance of qualifying for benefits.
I wonder whether this $2,000 a year rebate level was intended to compensate students. It is a possibility. But, if a student worked 10 hours a week from September through to the end of April, which is what universities generally recommend - in fact, they recommend that a student does not work more than 10 hours a week; most teaching assistants are limited to 10 hours a week - at $6 an hour, that student would earn $2,220 and would not get the rebate. She would also have to work full time in the summer - I calculated that she would take two weeks off, particularly if she was going back home, for example - and part time for 10 hours during the school term for a full two years before she would qualify for benefits.
Approximately 270,000 new female part-time employees will be included in the new EI system and will be paying premiums for the first time, but it is estimated that less than 40,000 of these will actually be eligible for benefits unless they increase their hours of work. However, many of those who already pay premiums because they work more than 15 hours a week will be disqualified for benefits or will have their benefits reduced because of the hours-based system.
Women who are new entrants will experience even greater hardship. We are particularly concerned that at the time of extremely high youth unemployment, the longer qualifying period required for new entrants will deepen existing differences between the treatment of regular workers and new entrants to the labour market. It is estimated that this provision will affect 88,000 new entrants to the labour market. Many of these will be young women leaving school or college graduates; others are likely to be women re-entering the labour market after a period of caring for family members, women with disabilities who want to be employed, or single mothers making a transition from social assistance to the labour market.
The government's rationale for these proposed changes is to ensure that individuals establish a reasonable attachment to the labour market before collecting benefits. However, we believe that the reality is that attachment to the labour market has less to do with individual motivation than with the lack of decent stable jobs.
Finally, we are particularly concerned that using the hours- based system, which will increase the number of hours needed to qualify for maternity and parental benefits for part-time workers, will erode some of the hard-won gains for women in this area.
When the cumulative effects of the regulation changes are taken into account, therefore, the trade-off for covering part-time workers who work less than 15 hours a week is a lot less attractive than it sounds. The suggestion, for instance, that the hours-based system is more fair or that it will benefit part-time workers distorts reality. Full-time workers will not really benefit from the changes. However, it is truly ironic that in the context of increasing unemployment and larger numbers of people in part-time jobs, and in the context of the public relations campaign to sell these changes on the basis that they will benefit part-time workers, it is ironic that those who work full time or overtime are the least likely to be hurt by the new eligibility requirements.
The second issue is the reduction in benefits. The amount of benefits that most individuals will be eligible to receive will be reduced under the EI proposals in Bill C-12. This will affect all workers in some way, but new entrants to the labour market, part-time and seasonal workers or those in unstable jobs will be most affected. Benefits will be reduced because of a number of proposed changes. These will affect the duration of benefits, will change the way benefits are calculated and penalize those already subject to layoff.
The first way that benefits will be reduced is by reducing the duration of benefits. I do not think I need outline to you these elements of the new legislation. The maximum duration of benefits will be reduced from 50 to 45 weeks, for instance, even for those in very high unemployment areas, such as Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
In addition, hours worked instead of weeks worked will be used to calculate the length of claim. This will be another way that some part-time workers may become disentitled to benefits. For example, under the new EI proposals, a woman laid off from a 15-hour-a-week job after six months would not be able to claim any benefits. Depending on the unemployment rate in the region, she will presently be able to claim between 17 and 39 weeks of benefits. If she were laid off after one year, she would be able to claim only 15 to 37 weeks of benefits under EI compared with 36 to 50 under UI.
The rationale for reducing the maximum duration of benefits is that on average, most unemployed people find employment within nine months. However, the problem of unemployment in Canada appears to be getting worse. In addition, this rationale flies the face of the government's own alleged concern that more vulnerable, low-waged workers are most likely to be out of work for longer periods. Using the hours-based system to calculate the duration of benefits will further penalize part-time and seasonal workers.
Then there is the issue of averaging. I know that the brief I prepared for the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development did not address the amendments that Mr. Scott or Mr. Regan proposed. I understand that these have been incorporated into or at least accepted by the committee and will be part of the package. I would just like to reiterate that I think those amendments are very important. I do not think they go far enough. I think that there are still problems with the averaging system and the devisor, but it will make some differences, especially to people in Atlantic Canada and other parts of Canada who are seasonally employed.
As the Canadian Council on Social Development stated in their brief, having taken or examined the amendments, they still feel that because so-called "dead weeks" will be counted in the calculation of benefits, this system will still penalize people in unstable jobs and seasonal workers.
In fact, today or yesterday a report was presented by the Royal Bank of Canada on the economic prospects for the various provinces of Canada. One of the points they make is that the impact of the EI legislation in Atlantic Canada will have serious effects on economic growth in Atlantic Canada. In other words, Atlantic Canada will be behind everyone else. We are already behind, so we will be even further behind in a couple of years.
Senator Rompkey: Do they give any reasons for that?
Ms Lord: They specifically talk about the changes to the EI legislation, predicting that because large numbers of people will now be ineligible for EI benefits, they presumably will not have the spending capacity and will have to go on social assistance. Social assistance is even in trouble in Atlantic Canada because of the CHST. There is a double whammy for Atlantic Canada.
The third point is the intensity clause, which will again affect seasonal workers. There is also the reduction in the maximum benefits and the increasing clawback. The maximum insurable income provision in the clawback will obviously affect full-time workers more than part-time or low-wage workers. Women, therefore, are less likely to be directly affected by these provisions than men because fewer women than men earn above-average wages. However, it is likely to affect women in families which are dependent on a primary breadwinner. It is estimated, for instance, that 4.5 times the number of unemployed will be affected by the new floor for the clawback.
I would like to address generally the implications of reduced benefits for women in Nova Scotia.
Atlantic Canada, as the federal government is well aware, is a region with higher rates of unemployment than the national average and with a high degree of seasonal employment because of the nature of the economy based on fishing, forestry and tourism. The proposed new system of employment insurance discriminates between those in standard and non-standard employment, such as seasonal, casual, part-time or unstable jobs where layoffs are more frequent.
Workers in such jobs are likely to see their benefits reduced even more than regular full-time, full-year employees because of the effects of averaging and penalties under the so-called intensity clause.
The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women believes that women's increased labour market participation can benefit women and contribute to their independence, but we also recognize that because of family responsibilities, and their disadvantaged position in the labour market, many women live in families where the male partner is the main or only bread-winner.
Besides the impact of the proposed change on individual women in seasonal and part-time jobs, the total compounded impact of reduced benefits on women in families must also be considered. In this context, we are concerned that in recent years, much of the increased labour force participation of women with children has often been driven by economic necessity rather than choice. Faced with a reduced family income and a reduction in income security, women who are not employed full time already are likely to try to seek employment or increase their employment hours whether or not they believe this is in their own or their family's best interests.
A lack of child care, unequal domestic division of labour, working low-waged employment, and financial problems may mean that women in this situation will experience increased personal and family stress.
Financial stress in families may also contribute to family violence and increase women's vulnerability to abuse. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that this is already happening in Nova Scotia, especially in rural communities affected by the crisis in the fishery. The crisis in the fishery and the profound changes occurring in the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada are already having severe consequences in Nova Scotia, causing stress for women and their families in several communities in the province. The impact of these proposals on individual women and their families will simply compound the problem.
I should like to mention here that it is my understanding that there is legislation governing fisheries and oceans which is supposed to be coming forward soon, but it has not been tabled yet. This is creating considerable anxiety in fishing communities in Nova Scotia because the total impact of that plus Bill C-12, the proposed employment legislation, on families in the fisheries is unknown at this time.
The other issue is the family income supplement. The only thing I should like to highlight is that I think there are problems there because, although the income base has risen, it is now based on family rather than individuals, and there are problems of introducing family income as the basis for the subsidy. I think it gets in by the back door the whole notion of basing these subsidies on family income which has turned out often to be problematic for women in families. One can imagine certain scenarios, such as a two-parent family, for example, where the higher wage earner, usually the male, expects to be laid off, and wants the higher rate. He may prevent his partner, for instance, from taking a job, and then, of course, the supplement will go to him, not to her. In this particular case, I think the problems are marginal, but the issue is that it is introducing the principle which is problematic. It has already been introduced in the amendments to the pensions in the last budget.
I should also like to point out that I think one of the problems that we have with this is that it is trying to address the issue of child poverty or poverty of low-income families, and we agree with the CCSD that UI is not the appropriate instrument to be doing that, that there are other ways of addressing that issue.
The Chair: Tax credit rather than UI.
Ms Lord: Right.
The Chair: Did you give the recommendations in Appendix A to the minister and the Human Resources Development Committee when you gave your brief?
Ms Lord: Yes. This went to the Department of Human Resources after we did the verbal presentation.
Senator Phillips: We could have the recommendations as printed in the brief included in our minutes, could we not?
The Chair: Yes, we could.
Senator Losier-Cool: Are you aware that the government has conducted a comprehensive gender-based analysis on this and that in so doing, it is the first time they have done so in such circumstances?
Ms Lord: Yes, I had access to that data, to that information. They did do a gender-based analysis. Unfortunately, the gender-based analysis simply shows that everyone will be affected by this and, in some cases, the cuts to women will not be as high as they are to men, but there will still be cuts. It also pointed out that it is not as beneficial to part-time workers as has been suggested. In fact, some of the data that I use in this brief is from that study.
Senator Losier-Cool: I agree with you, it is not perfect. The minister said that it is not a perfect bill, but it is a good step. The major step here for women is that for the first time, the contribution of the work of women is recognized, because it can be insured and more women will be eligible.
Ms Lord: You mean because it includes people working under 15 hours a week?
Senator Losier-Cool: Because of the hours-based system.
Ms Lord: It will include some more people, but many of the people, as I said in my brief, who will be included for the first time will not be eligible for benefits because they will not be able to accumulate the required number of hours. In addition, many people who are now eligible for benefits, who work more than 15 hours a week, say, 17 or 20 hours a week, will also be ineligible for benefits. I fail to see how this is a beneficial piece of legislation for women, or for anyone.
Senator Rompkey: Is it fair to say you see nothing positive in the legislation at all?
Ms Lord: The principle that all work should be insured is a good one. In fact, that was the recommendation of the inquiry into part-time work in the early 1980s. It recommended that more people who work part-time should be included in the system, but it did not recommend an hours-based system. If you kept to the weeks-based system, people will only get proportionately out of the benefits what their earnings are. The benefits are related to earnings, so I cannot really understand why we are going to an hours-based system.
Senator Rompkey: Would you maintain the status quo?
Ms Lord: I think it should go back to the weeks-based system or go back to the drawing board.
Senator Rompkey: You think the weeks-based system has been a good system for the Atlantic and that workers have been able to profit from it, that women have been able to profit from it?
Ms Lord: I think that it worked better than this will. I have not seen one statistic that shows that anyone in Atlantic Canada will be better off, or that women in general will be better off.
Senator Rompkey: Part of the problem here is that we have had no experience with it. You can hardly do an analysis on a system that has not come into effect.
Ms Lord: One analysis shows how much will be taken out of the system. Even with the amendments, Nova Scotia will be losing $63 million in benefits. Someone is losing.
Senator Rompkey: Is that after factoring in the employment benefits and the redirection of funds?
Ms Lord: Yes, after that.
Senator Rompkey: Has there been any research done on how many people will be able to find work? When you say that people cannot increase their work even if they want to, do you mean that there is no alternative in the community?
Ms Lord: The assumption in this legislation is that people do not want to work. I do not see the evidence to support that. All the surveys which have been done on part-time workers show that they want full-time jobs.
Senator Rompkey: Would you agree that people now are trapped by the system and that they are trapped by a 10-, 12- or 14-week period, both for themselves and the employer? They can become the victim of the employer, be it private sector or public sector. Some federal departments hire people for 12 or 14 weeks and then lay them off and hire someone else to the detriment, I would argue, of the individual workers. It seems to me that we have created a trap.
I spent half of my time as a member of Parliament trying to figure out ways for people to beat the system. If you are spending that much time figuring out how to beat system, there must be something wrong with the system.
Ms Lord: That is in a situation where the good stable jobs are not there.
Senator Rompkey: That is true. If you are making the argument that in a fish plant on the Labrador coast, which is frozen up for six months of the year or more, people have little opportunity to find work, I can understand that. God bless them. They are a minority of people. I want to see something done for them. I hope arrangements can be made, but these people are not in the majority.
Over 85 per cent of people in New Brunswick work in excess of 35 hours per week. Are we talking about the majority of people here or the minority of people? I have seen statistics that show figures of over 80 per cent in all provinces. Am I right or wrong?
I am sorry. I am told that the average is 77 per cent. I am having trouble figuring out who is the majority and who is the minority.
Ms Lord: It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Senator Rompkey: Some of the people who work between 15 and 35 hours per week would have some problems. However, they are in a minority because over 70 to 80 per cent of people work more than 35 hours per week and, therefore, would be able to participate in the program.
Ms Lord: They may work 35 hours per week but they may not have enough weeks in total hours.
Senator Rompkey: I come back to my other question: Why would they not be able to find more hours of work, unless they are in a remote community with a single industry?
Ms Lord: Because the jobs are not there. That is the bottom line.
Senator Rompkey: We do not know that for sure, do we? This system has not yet gone into effect. We really do not know. We need to experience it.
Ms Lord: No, but there is an awful risk if it does not happen when the system goes in.
Senator Rompkey: It seems to me risky to keep the present system.
Ms Lord: I have not seen one statistic which says that people will be better off. This is all about saving money. Of the $2 billion taken out of the system, half of that will go to employment programs. The program itself is not in deficit. The program is in surplus. Why are we cutting it? We are in a period of high unemployment. I am not saying do not reform or change it, but I do not understand.
Senator Rompkey: The argument that is made, understandable or not, is that a surplus in the UI fund will prevent an increase in premiums during the next recession or period of low employment. For many people, that makes sense.
What about the redirection of funds? I know you say that should not be done under the UI system, so I assume that you are for a pure insurance system, are you?
There will be a saving of $2 billion. If you add up the numbers, about $1.2 billion will be redirected to employment support, to people with low incomes, to training and so on. Do you think that redirection is a good thing or a bad thing?
Ms Lord: The UI system has always redirected some funds to employment training. That is fair enough.
I am somewhat concerned about the direction because much of it goes to wage subsidies, supplementing wages and wage top-ups, rather than actual training. There has been a shift over the last 10 to 15 years from actual training to wage subsidies. We will have to see how that works.
I read in The Globe and Mail today that this is now on the table with the provinces - UI may be amalgamated with social assistance. I have some real worries about that, given how social assistance works in Atlantic Canada.
Senator Murray: I have problems with the bill, too. There is a problem with your presentation on just that point, which puzzles me. In one breath you are decrying the move away from UI as an earnings insurance system, but it is implicit in many of your criticisms - as it is explicit a couple of paragraphs later - that you look upon UI as a federal income security program. Those are two different concepts.
If UI is a federal income security program - and it seems that is how you look at it, and I am inclined to believe that is what it has become - then what would be wrong, conceptually, with integrating it more closely with the social assistance system as well as education, training, retraining and so forth?
Ms Lord: That is a bit of a leap. Saying that I am arguing that it is an income security system does not contradict the notion that it is also an insured earnings system. Insured earnings is also income security, right?
Senator Murray: No.
Ms Lord: It has always been called a part of Canada's income security system, based on earnings.
Senator Murray: That is how we get into the so-called employability measures which you question and which I question from some points of view. That is why we get into the employability measures. That is also why anyone who is trying to look at it in a rational way and having the ultimate beneficiary in mind, would say that, conceptually, it should be integrated very closely with all of these provincial programs including placement and others.
Ms Lord: I would not have too many worries. In fact, one argument you can make from a feminist or women's perspective is that women have been pushed toward the social assistance system for the main part, while men have had access to the unemployment insurance system. Of course, that was before women were really integrated into the labour market. There has been this two tier thing. Ideally, it would be better to have one system. In an ideal world, I would agree with that.
I have many concerns, knowing what I know about the way social assistance works. In Nova Scotia, we are now experiencing cuts to social assistance for people with disabilities and cuts to housing allowance.
Senator Murray: You have identified that part of the responsibility for that is the cuts in transfers from Ottawa.
Ms Lord: That is right.
Senator Murray: The whole thing argues for a much more closely integrated federal-provincial system. As I said, whenever I mention it, eyes start rolling in the Department of Finance and many other places because it seems like an impossible dream. I do not see any other way.
Ms Lord: I would not have too many problems with it if I were assured that it would not be cut, cut, cut. There are cuts to the UI system, and we are seeing those. Any way you look at it, there are cuts. Nova Scotia will lose $63 million by the year 2000, and that is even with the amendments.
There are cuts to CHST which are now impacting people on social assistance. It is already starting in Nova Scotia. They are cutting housing allowance. A social assistance review is being done this summer and my bet is that they will be looking at cuts in that.
If we were assured that the money that was going into the system was adequate, would maintain incomes, and support that infrastructure, then fine, in some ways I would be the first to agree with you, senator. I have done a lot of work, especially with women on social assistance. I know the conditions under which they live. I would like to see the social assistance standards raised to the level of the UI system, not UI lowered to social assistance, which is the direction I am afraid it is going.
The Chair: I thank you, Ms Lord, for your presentation and for appearing before this committee.
Our next witness is Jacinta Deveaux from the P.E.I. Coalition of Seasonal Workers, to be followed by Luanne Gallant, who is a spokesperson for the Miminegash Women in Support of Fishing. We are pleased to have you here tonight to discuss Bill C-12. Please proceed, please.
Ms Jacinta Deveaux, Spokesperson, P.E.I. Coalition of Seasonal Workers: Madam chair, honourable senators, I thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee. I am a seasonal worker, not by choice but because of the seasonal economy on P.E.I.
We have grave concerns over this bill. We believe that the bill was drafted on the premise that there were jobs to replace the UI. However, because of the seasonal economy of P.E.I., this is virtually impossible.
We believe that seasonal workers in Atlantic Canada will take the brunt of this legislation, especially through the gap and the intensity clause. People in rural communities in Atlantic Canada that depend on farming, fishing, and tourism will be forced elsewhere to look for work. It is naive to believe that as seasonal workers, we are living the high life, sitting home and collecting our cheques. This just is not true. Seasonal workers have skills and knowledge, and a work ethic that is equal to or better than other Canadians. Our only problem is that we do not have long-term work available on a year-round basis.
The federal government has used the figure $26,000 as the magical income for seasonal workers. The truth is that very few seasonal workers, even in combination with their spouse, have incomes that would equal this sum. If this legislation is passed, people like myself and others will be faced with either starvation or going on welfare.
I am here today to tell you how things really are, not the way people perceive them to be. We realize changes have to be made, but not at all costs. This legislation will have a devastating effect on families, communities, and on society as a whole. It is the seasonal employees who will be most hurt by this legislation. We are the ones who can least afford it, yet we are penalized because there is no long-term work.
Last year, I worked two jobs: one at a potato warehouse and the other at a flower nursery. Neither was easy. I had 18 weeks of work, but because of the changes to the UI system, I will lose. Workers pay into the UI program, which is supposed to be an insurance plan that protects workers financially when there is no work for them. What will protect me when my two seasonal jobs come to an end? In a perfect world, I could work year round. The reality is that we need long-term jobs.
My husband and I have three children. When the proposed UI changes go into effect, my cheque will drop from $185 to $104, approximately $2,500 a year. We are not asking for sympathy. We would just like this bill to deal with reality, which is the lack of long-term meaningful work.
I do have better things to do than take on the federal government, but this is a matter of survival. I will protect my family at all costs. I urge you to consider this legislation very carefully, because it is real people who must bear the consequences.
I thank you for this opportunity to present my views, and I feel that my views are reflective of the average seasonal employee.
Ms Luanne Gallant, Spokesperson, Miminegash Women in Support of Fishing: Madam Chair, honourable senators, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to your committee. I am from Miminegash, P.E.I. I am a full-time seasonal worker in tourism and an Irish moss harvester. As strange as it may seem, I consider myself a full-time seasonal worker. I am also a wife and mother of three children and an active member in Miminegash Women in Support of Fishing.
I am here on behalf of thousands of seasonal workers from western P.E.I. who are being punished because of where they live and the type of work they do. We are labelled repeat offenders, as if we are criminals. For this offence, the government has given us the intensity rule. With the Reagan amendment, the bill changed the divisor to 14 weeks on P.E.I. or 12 plus two - 12 weeks work plus two dead weeks. Under the Easter amendment, the divisor cannot be changed unless voted on in the house. It takes power away from the minister. Mr. Easter did this in hopes that in the event of any future changes to UI, all Canadians would have an opportunity for input. Is this not the way it always was?
We had input. As you have read in my brief, we had lots of input, but our MPs still all played follow the leader. The gap, they say, is gone. Maybe it is for some, but not for everyone. The 26 weeks does not solve the problem for about 700 fish plant workers, farm hands and other workers in my area alone.
I will use Dorothy Perry as an example. She works eight weeks in the fall at strawberry plants, from September 1 to October 31, and then at the fish plant for seven weeks from May 1 to June 21.
Going back 26 weeks, she can use her hours to qualify but she cannot use the money she made to determine how much she will draw. On the old UI system, Dorothy's earnings would have been $124 per week. When calculated according to the proposed legislation, her earnings will be $51 per week. Under Bill C-12, she loses $73 per week from UI earnings; that is, $2,044 over a 20-week period.
Joe McGuire, who is the Member of Parliament for my riding, said in the House of Commons that there will be some people who will fall outside the 26 weeks, that it will be hard for them but they will have to learn to adjust.
They will be adjusting to increased poverty, even destitution in this, the richest country in the world.
The hours-based system will hurt students and other part-time workers. Some students believe that they will not have a chance to use UI anyway because it would take forever to get enough hours to qualify.
I work at the Irish Moss Interpretive Centre. I have worked for 14 consecutive weeks. I consider myself lucky. On the 15th week, I present to a tour bus for two hours and again on the 16th week. Therefore, my divisor will be 16 weeks. I get paid $32 for four extra hours of work. I will lose $588 from UI over a span of 28 weeks on account of four hours work.
Mr. McGuire said that the old way was a disincentive for people to continue working because they were basically penalized for going to work. How can the new way be an incentive for me to go back to work for four hours for $32, only to lose $588 from UI over a span of 28 weeks? This is money I sorely need. We are all hard-working people who are not afraid of work. If the jobs were there, we would work. The government is doing this backwards. Create jobs first; if people refuse to work, then that is another story.
In rural areas of P.E.I. in winter, work literally comes to a standstill. Life, however, does not. In the winter, on UI, we just survive. We have to budget very carefully to make our cheques last until the next one arrives. Sometimes they do not.
The Liberal government spent $2 million to hide the facts. When people were polled, they did not have enough information to give a correct answer. However, things are changing. Bill C-12 is waking up people in the rest of Canada because they will be hurt by it, too.
Government should go after the big corporations and the wealthy to solve its deficit problem, instead of always going after the little guys. Bill C-12 is terrible compared to what we had before.
P.E.I. lost $40 million in the 1994 UI cuts. We will lose another $40 million with Bill C-12. It is not right for a group of people to have so much power that they are able to play with the lives of others without answering to anyone, not even to the people who put them in power.
We are fighting for our lives in an area of high unemployment and seasonal work. As long as there are seasons, there will be seasonal workers. We also know that seasonal work is a very important part of our economy.
If changes are to be made to UI, these changes must help everyone right across Canada, not just some, while letting the rest fall through the cracks. The proposed EI bill is not a fair bill.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We enjoyed your presentations very much. They have made us sit up and take notice.
Senator Phillips: I would like to welcome the witnesses. I know that they have participated in a many meetings in P.E.I. and, I believe, throughout the Maritimes.
Ms Deveaux, you say that your cheque will be reduced from $185 to $104. I assume that your husband was drawing benefits at some time, too; was he?
Ms Deveaux: Yes.
Senator Phillips: What will his drop in benefits be?
Ms Deveaux: He will probably not receive any because he works about eight months of the year.
Senator Phillips: So this is just a case of one member of the family receiving benefits.
Ms Deveaux: Yes, myself.
Senator Phillips: I would like to turn to the family income supplement. I think that under the family income supplement, you could receive an additional $30 a week. Also, under the existing legislation, you could have received 60 per cent of your income. I noticed that the NAC paper contained this but the witness did not have the opportunity to read it.
Have you done any calculations to find out what that would mean to you?
Ms Deveaux: I did work that out. It would bring me from $104 up to $152. However, because of the income I make now, they will take me down $2,500. It will take me down to the $26,000, where I will stay, because the top-up will not help me.
Senator Phillips: It will not help you at all.
Ms Deveaux: No, it will not.
Senator Phillips: Ms Gallant, will it affect you in any way?
Ms Gallant: My income will fall right on the line; therefore, I would not receive an income supplement.
Senator Phillips: I have been advised that as a result of meetings organized in P.E.I., the impression is being left that everyone earning below $26,000 will receive the $26,000. In his excellent explanation of the bill - although that is not to say that I agree with him - Senator Rompkey pointed out that the average amount payable under the family income supplement would be $800 a year.
Ms Deveaux: There are so many misunderstandings about this bill on P.E.I. As I said before, I am beginning to wonder who the politicians are. Seasonal workers are asking Luanne and myself for advice. Some of them think they need 14 weeks to qualify. Another misunderstanding is that they will automatically be topped up to $26,000, which is not the case. They will be topped up to 80 per cent and no higher. You would have to be at a certain point for that 80 per cent to take you up to $26,000. That $26,000 seems to be a magical figure for people to survive on. The problem with that figure is that I will most likely never get above it. I worked 18 weeks last year and I have a cheque for $104. The people who work 12 weeks are a lot better off than I am.
The bill does not make a whole lot of sense. There are nine weeks at the first of the year that I cannot count on. I took two jobs because I knew that there would be severe changes to UI, and I am the one being penalized. It does not make any sense to me.
There are good parts to this bill. However, there must be changes, but not at all costs. People have asked: Why are women doing all of the fighting? It is because we are mothers and we are protecting our family. You protect them at all costs. I have three children. They are my babies. I make more than $26,000 now and I am barely surviving. What will I do when they take me down to 26,000? It does not make any sense. I am sorry, I just do not know else to say it. I have tried everything short of banging my head against the wall. The reality of it is that I just cannot survive on that now. How will I ever survive on less? I have three children. There are five of us in our household.
Senator Phillips: A witness who belonged to one of these think-tanks argued earlier that unemployment insurance was the cause of the lack of development in Atlantic Canada.
You have skills. If either of you were offered the chance to retrain, for what could you train and still stay in your area? I do not think people realize that once you have a home and get settled in a community, you pretty well have to stay there. We heard one member of this committee say that he had to sell his home in Quebec the other day at one-third less than it cost him. But if people start moving out of small communities, then you cannot sell your home or any of your assets. You are stuck there. For what could you train and get year round work?
Ms Deveaux: That is the point that we have tried to hammer home all the way through. I have said that over and over again. I can retrain any day of the week. I have always said that I am a jack-of-all trades and a master of none. I have worked in a flower nursery, graded potatoes and worked in a store. I will try anything. If someone would have told me that I would be travelling to Ottawa to appear before a Senate committee, I would have told them that they were crazy. But I am here.
I agree with retraining, but retraining will not keep me in Surrey, because jobs will not magically appear. You talked about moving. If it were just my family and myself moving - and, I do not want to do that - that would be fine. But must we all move from Surrey? Will we all leave Surrey? To where will we move? From Surrey to Charlottetown? They will put the run on us. Similarly, if we move from Charlottetown to Ottawa, I am sure you will put the run on us up here because there are no jobs up here.
Ms Gallant: I have retrained. I have been an Irish moss harvester all my life and I love that job. However, there was a decline in the Irish moss industry. I have had training in management and I managed the Irish Moss Interpretive Centre in Miminegash. I actually manage it. I do the books, cut grass, waitress and wash dishes. You name it and I do it! On my days off, I harvest Irish moss. The job is there for me - and, I thank God for it - but it is only there for a specific amount of time. In the winter, there are no other jobs. After the fall, you cannot buy a job where I live. There are two Irish moss plants in our area and there are three fish buyers, but they have all closed down. You cannot go to the surrounding areas because they are in the same boat that we are in. There are no jobs. If we move to Summerside or Charlottetown, they will put the run on us also because we will be taking their jobs away from them.
I do not want my children to have to grow up relying on UI, but I should like to have it there so that they will have something to fall back on if they need it. I do not think it is proper that our children must leave P.E.I. to find a job because they cannot get one in P.E.I.
Senator Phillips: There seems to be a conception in other parts of Canada that Maritimers want nothing but seasonal work. Could the fishing industry or the farming industry in P.E.I. exist without seasonal work?
Ms Gallant: Never.
Senator Phillips: And seasonal workers are absolutely essential to our main industries.
Ms Deveaux: Yes. I put those figures in my brief. There are 25,000 seasonal workers. I have said it before, and I will say it again. If the entire 25,000 of us moved some place to look for full-time jobs, then 25,000 jobs in agriculture, tourism and fishing would be vacant because the people who are working full time right now will not grade potatoes. There is no one banging down the door for my job. People who have full time jobs - for example, in grocery stores, in the government or whatever - are there because they do not want to grade potatoes.
Ms Gallant: Fish plant workers and strawberry pickers are trained in their jobs. They are proud of their work and they work hard. They should not be punished for what they do or where they live.
Ms Deveaux: I grade potatoes. I believe most of you eat potatoes at one time of the day. If those potatoes came from Black Pond, then I graded them. They are number one grade A potatoes that are shipped to Ontario. They are number one grade A potatoes because I graded them. I know what I am doing and I know what to pick out. Because of the situation I am in now - that is, going from $185 to $104 - I am seriously thinking about leaving that industry. There is no way I can survive. I cannot pay my light bill with $104. At Black Pond Farm, they will have to hire someone else.
There are three ladies who work there who are in the exact same situation and are thinking the same thing that I am; that is, we must leave our jobs. We have all been there for 10 years. We all know our jobs. Someone will come in behind us - male or female - who will probably be in the same situation that we find ourselves in now. Therefore, they will not last long, either. What will happen to the grade of potatoes, for example? It will go down because there will always be someone new coming in the door.
It is the same in the fishing industry. When you are cutting fish, or whatever, you know how to do it. That industry will be hurt in exactly the same way.
Senator Losier-Cool: I have a comment on retraining. I always tell young women not to train to fix Maytag washers and dryers - apparently there is no demand for that kind of job. I also want to congratulate you for the interesting way that you have presented your concerns to us. Good luck!
The Chair: You are probably the first group that has come before us with a personal presentation. It was very nice of you to do that.
Senator Murray: I will ask you for a comment, because you have been around the region a lot and, as you say, you know the whole bill - perhaps you know it better than we do.
You are concerned about living, breathing human beings like yourselves. You see the $40 million, or whatever it is, coming out of the island in benefits, but Mr. Young reminds us that the government must put $800 million back into the system - not in unemployment insurance benefits to claimants but, rather, into all these employability measures.
The government is talking about training with the provinces, but there are ways of creating jobs, such as wage subsidies, earnings supplements, self-employment and infrastructure, some of it in cooperation with the provinces. In fact, Mr. Young went so far as to suggest that perhaps it is a wash in the sense that if you say $40 million is coming out of P.E.I., $40 million is going into P.E.I. a different way. He is not able to offer you a job - neither am I - but his argument with you would be that this will create opportunities. Have you not thought about that, and would not two people as resourceful as yourselves be right there and more able than most to take advantage of this? That is what he would say.
Ms Deveaux: I have done that already. I am doing that right now.
Senator Murray: Let us say there is another $40 million coming in to create jobs, he says, or to create employment in Prince Edward Island. Have you thought that through or talked to anyone about that?
Ms Deveaux: Of course I have. The point I am trying to get across is that we are not disputing changes to UI; put the jobs there first and then change UI. Right now, they can train us until the cows come home. They are doing it now with respect to computers, for example, but there are no computers in Souris. Where will we use them - out in the middle of Main Street, Souris? Retrain for what? The jobs are not there. Put the jobs there first and retrain us after. We will work.
Ms Gallant: You can get jobs in Charlottetown perhaps and in the Summerside area. From Summerside up to the west, there are no large businesses and therefore no computer work. Many kids and adults have been trained, but there are no jobs.
I have a friends who is 39 years old. She went to register for a training program, but she was too old. You have to be 30 and under. Two other ladies went in to apply. They are 49 years old, but they are too old to apply for the jobs. They have the training. They trained all their lives. They took courses every winter. There are no jobs for them; they are too old. There are basically no jobs in my area. It is the same where Ms Deveaux lives - there are no jobs.
Ms Deveaux: There is a hospital in Souris. There is no shortage of workers; they are laying them off all the time. There are schools and lots of teachers around. Then we have our grocery stores. That is it; the rest of the work is all seasonal. Unless jobs are created, there is no point retraining anyone.
The government is forcing me out of Souris. They are forcing hundreds of people out of Souris. Souris will disappear. The jobs disappear; the tax base will disappear. They are basically moving us off UI and putting us on welfare. It just does not make any sense because when we are on welfare, we are not paying anything. At least with UI, or when we are working, we paid federal income tax. We were paying for something, but on welfare we are paying for nothing.
The Chair: I was reading an article on the plane the other day about Prince Edward Island, the tourist industry and what will happen to it with the fixed link. Well, you are talking about the same thing. You will have 250,000 visitors in Prince Edward Island, which ties in with what you are saying about the seasonal tourist industry.
Ms Gallant: I met Mr. Young in Charlottetown and asked him a question. When the Conservatives were in power and making changes to UI, Mr. Young stated in the house that the changes were devastating. Mr. Chrétien said the same thing. I asked Mr. Young why he changed his mind and thought these changes were good for us. I never understood his answer because he just talked all around the question and then left.
Senator Murray: Did he not say that that was then and this is now?
Ms Gallant: I still do not understand what he said. He was in and out.
Senator Murray: Like an act of God.
The Chair: I wish to thank you once again for making the trip here. We were happy to hear your story.
Our last witness of the evening is Ms Nycole Turmel, Executive Vice-President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Ms Nycole Turmel, Executive Vice-President, Public Service Alliance of Canada: The Public Service Alliance of Canada, representing 150,000 federal government workers, including 17,000 who are directly involved in the administration and delivery of employment insurance and employment services, welcomes this opportunity to appear before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
Your committee's review of Bill C-12 is critical to the income security and re-employment opportunities of millions of Canadians. This is particularly the case in the context of an economy that is, like it or not, radically altering the nature of work in our society.
At the outset, I should state that, in our opinion, the government's employment insurance bill is fundamentally flawed and should be withdrawn. We take this position because we believe that the legislation before your committee is a complete departure from the principles that have guided unemployment insurance for the past 25 years.
The Canadian UI plan, which is now 25 years old, was based on the concept that layoffs and unemployment are not the result of a choice made by workers, but the consequence of decisions made by governments and employers.
This principle has withstood the test of time. Over the years, many changes have been made in eligibility criteria and in the benefit structure. But the hypothesis that unemployment is a problem out of the control of workers has remained an important pillar of the plan.
With Bill C-12, the present government negates this hypothesis. The proposed plan is based on the principle that workers are responsible for the level of pay, the number of hours and weeks of work and for the layoffs.
In our brief formally submitted to this committee, we have dealt with the replacement of unemployment insurance by employment insurance, and assessed the administrative changes that will result from the bill.
We start from the principle that the first goal of the UI plan, in whatever form, is to support the income of workers who have been laid off and are out of work.
It should be pointed out that the main problem with the present UI plan is that it does not maintain the income of many unemployed workers.
When the government introduced Bill C-111, in December of last year, it knew that, nationally, previous restrictions had reduced from 85 per cent to 49 per cent the number of the unemployed receiving benefits. It also knew that as low as the national percentage was, it was concealing regional differences.
Before the changes in Bill C-12, at least 65 per cent of workers in Ontario officially considered unemployed did not get benefits.
From our perspective, unemployment insurance reform must be designed to rectify this glaring problem. Instead, through Bill C-12, the government has proposed a series of benefit cuts and entrance requirement changes that will reduce still further the number of unemployed workers who qualify for benefits.
In our formal submission to your committee, we examine a number of the specific changes to the benefits structure and qualifying criteria that are proposed in Bill C-12.
In summary, the Public Service Alliance of Canada believes that the Bill C-12 provisions are designed to penalize workers on the basis of where they live, gender, occupation, and age. They are nothing short of an attempt to wipe out income maintenance during periods of unemployment. As such, the proposal runs counter to the principle of the unemployment insurance system and should be withdrawn.
As the representative union of 17,000 federal public sector workers who are employed in the administration and delivery of unemployment insurance and employment services, we are equally alarmed with the employment measures proposed by the government in Bill C-12.
While a reduction and consolidation of the 39 employment programs currently in effect will doubtlessly reduce claimants' confusion, the five replacement programs proposed by the government will make matters that much worse.
Despite the government's rhetoric, one of the primary motivations of the employment measures will appear to be to encourage workers to accept low-paying jobs. In short, what the government is doing through Bill C-12 is taking money away from income maintenance for the unemployed and using the money to subsidize low-wage jobs and low-wage employers.
Clearly, this runs counter to the principle of any program designed to stabilize workers' incomes. As well, by expanding the role of unemployment insurance money in the financing of labour market programs, the government is confusing the purpose and intent of the UI program.
Despite the months of planning that preceded the introduction of the employment insurance bill, the government has provided little by way of analysis that will help in the evaluation of the program. It also needs to be made clear that while the government has introduced its five new employment measures, they will provide no benefit to unemployed workers unless they are specifically agreed to by individual provincial governments. During the transition, Human Resources Development Canada may not provide financial assistance related to helping uninsured participants obtain skills for employment without the agreement of the province or territory.
One of the principles of the transition from unemployment insurance to employment insurance is that participants will have to pay a portion of their training costs. Members of the committee should understand that since the unemployment insurance fund pays for training and adjustment, the government is making unemployed workers pay twice. At a minimum, most unemployed workers will be forced to adjust their personal finances in order to survive on benefits that are at least 55 per cent less than their employment income. As a result, it is unfathomable that unemployed individuals will have the financial resources available to partially fund their own training program.
In our opinion, the government's proposals in this regard are the height of insensitivity and are administratively flawed. By changing the system from one based on clearly defined entitlements to one based on a means test transforms the administration.
Claimants will not know where they stand when they consider their training and employment options, and managers will have a hard time organizing the program.
Discretionary power in decision-making could result in judicial proceedings that will only increase administrative costs.
Even if we forget about the obvious shortcomings of a plan that force people who often experience a desperate situation to come up with a financial contribution they cannot afford, the plan is predicated on a level of sophistication many workers do not have. People with limited reading and writing skills, new immigrants and the young will likely be put at a great disadvantage by a plan that puts on them the onus of program planning.
We would think that, in the present economic context, these are the people the government should be targeting with its special employment and training measures.
That is why the PSAC thinks it is most important that professional advisors with an excellent training be posted in Canada employment centres and continue providing the services. Otherwise, it could very well be that Canadians will end up in training programs and institutions that cannot deliver. As a result, unemployed men and women could go heavily into debt without acquiring new skills.
Resources are not being used in a proper way. The knowledge on programs and their relevancy to each recipient is a skill public servants acquire through long years of work with UI benefit recipients.
It is an absurdity to ask claimants to find by themselves the program best suited to them. The time, energy and financial resources they will have to spend doing that are just excessive and useless.
Besides, there is no guarantee that the program he or she will choose will be really suited to his or her needs.
We think the government has designed this plan as a transition from a government managed program to an individual program based on vouchers.
We believe this plan will reduce access to the employment services for many workers, and that it will increase administrative costs and uncertainty.
I want to conclude by reminding members of the committee that the government's Employment Insurance Act is directly related to the service delivery program that was announced by the government late last summer.
At that time, the government announced its intention of reducing the number of full-service offices and replacing them with a system of electronic kiosks. This change in the service delivery system is bad enough in its own right because it will reduce the level of service for a great many unemployed workers. This situation is that much worse under the government's employment insurance system because it will reduce support services in the context of a system designed to force unemployed workers to develop their own re-employment programs.
The new employment measures and the delivery mechanisms that the government is intent on putting into place cannot but adversely affect claimants and undermine accountability. Both of these predictable outcomes are serious problems in their own right and offensive in the context of a program that is financed in large measure by premiums that are paid by Canadian workers.
Thank you, Madam Chair. We are ready to answer your questions.
Senator Murray: You have remarked only briefly on the fact that the new employment measures will involve individual provincial governments. You say that while this will provide provinces with greater involvement in employment initiatives, including design, management and delivery, it can generate an unsettled transition for unemployed workers and HRDC staff.
Ms Turmel, I would like to ask you whether you agree that manpower training and other programs should be left to the provinces.
Ms Turmel: We agree in part that some programs should be left to the provinces. But we are sure of one thing: there should be criteria to make sure people are not put at a disadvantage by this.
Essentially, they talk about Quebec having jurisdiction over these programs. So, we want to make sure the transfer of programs or the standards will have no impact on people.
Senator Murray: Do you think this transfer would entail job losses for PSAC members?
Ms Turmel: There could be some job losses in certain areas. We do represent these people, and we fear they will lose some jobs. But the main thing is we want to have the same level of service for all Canadians throughout Canada.
Senator Murray: But you are not in a position tonight to estimate the number of jobs that could be lost.
Ms Turmel: About 4,000 people could be affected by program transfers.
Senator Murray: A job loss for 4,000 people?
Ms Turmel: Yes, 4,000 jobs could be lost. That would make the unemployment problem even worse.
The Chair: With respect to clauses 24 and 25, most witnesses before our committee have been asked to state their opinion about changing from weeks to hours. Your comment on clause 24 seems to indicate that you approve of the fact that EI will be based on hours. Regarding clause 25, you talk about the economy and you feel that, perhaps, people will not benefit.
Can you elaborate on that?
Ms Turmel: I will ask my colleagues, Mr. Pascucci and Ms Kilby, whether they can answer your questions. We do not oppose the hour-based system, but we do oppose the number of hours required.
Especially for newcomers on the labour market who claim unemployment benefits that will now be replaced by employment benefits. That is the problem we have with this part of the bill.
Mr. Cres Pascucci, National President, CEIU: We believe that the creation of the first-hour insurable was a good step forward in terms of including part-time workers. You are giving something, on the one hand; on the other, you are taking something away. You are making these part-time workers work longer hours in order to be eligible, just to be eligible for benefits. We are not talking about equal conversion in terms of what the weeks were before and what the hours are now. We are talking about doubling or tripling the time needed for a part-time person to become eligible for benefits. We think that undermines the benefit of being insurable from the first hour.
Something else, which was raised by Senator Murray, is the question of workforce, in terms of who administers the act and who will do the work. It is nice to talk about devolution and what will happen to the jobs of those who administer; however, you must recognize that there have been cutbacks for the last 18 months in Human Resources Development, which is undermining the capability of those who are there now to do the job properly and to give the required services to the unemployed.
We are already talking about close to 3,000 people who have been let go and who are no longer working on the unemployment insurance program. We are talking about people who are experienced counsellors. We are talking about lots of centres. I know Senator Rompkey worked hard to ensure that Happy Valley had an unemployment insurance office. We should give him credit for that. Maybe next time, senator, it will not be in Happy Valley because more than 200 communities across Canada will lose their employment services. Their only access will be by phone or by kiosk, and they will not have a person there to help them get through a crisis.
When you become unemployed, it is not like going on a holiday. It is a traumatic experience. You need counselling to get you through that period of time.
We talk a lot about employment measures. Our members are just beginning their training under the new legislation. We wonder how effective the new programs will be. Who will be reached? We could have five new programs, but that does not necessarily mean five better programs. Let us be clear on this.
First, our trainees receive a chart showing who is eligible. In some provinces, the chart covers only half of those who are unemployed. Will these programs create more employment and get people back to work?
I will distribute this document so that you can see the effect.
Once targeted as being eligible, very few will be selected for those new programs. I do not think that is the intent envisioned by the Senate. If we are job-oriented, then we should create the jobs first and fit the programs to those jobs. We are not doing it that way at all.
Senators on this committee have a very important role.
People think of the Senate as being the bastion of the vested interest and the elite. This is an opportunity for you to stop the legislation and change it, just like you did in the Pearson inquiry. You gave it back to the House because you felt it was unjust. If you feel this legislation is unjust, you have an obligation to stop it from going through and to make the changes.
The communities have been out there fighting against this legislation in New Brunswick, and in the Atlantic provinces specifically. There were 221 amendments proposed that came from that. How many were adopted? Three. You have an opportunity to show that you can represent the general working public and get back the programs to help the unemployed and stop taking benefits away from the unemployed.
Senator Murray: Perhaps I read too quickly through your brief. You mention amendments. I do not see too much of that. I see quite a critique of the bill, and I understand that, but I am not sure that I see much here by way of suggested amendments.
In fact, others from what I might call the labour movement have been here to tell us that this thing is not fixable; that the only thing to do is to go to the quite drastic step for the Senate of killing the bill, period.
If you have amendments to propose to this legislation - I am not asking for a legal draft, but if you see ways that this could be improved, we would be interested in hearing about that.
Ms. Turmel: As a matter of fact, we do not suggest any amendment to this bill. We would like the bill to be withdrawn completely. That is our suggestion.
We think this bill does not meet the needs of people who are looking for a job and are without a job for a time. It does not meet their training needs either. That is our representation tonight.
Senator Rompkey: One of the measures that was taken was the devolution of decision-making to the local level and, as you mentioned, the creation of different regions. I welcomed that in principle because it moved decision-making to the local level. How do you feel about that? Has that been a good thing? Have your staff welcomed it? Does it take some authority from the centre and put it into the regions and local communities? Do your people in those local offices now, as professional people, feel that they, perhaps, can be more creative than they were before? I see people laughing, so perhaps that is not case. Is it worse than it was before?
Ms Turmel: I think the important part to realize in the devolution of certain programs is that it changes the whole concept of equalization, having the same services of the same right. It could be unequal treatment for some. I am just thinking about child care, as an example, or benefits to the workers who are looking for employment and are without a job for a certain period. That is why we have problems with devolution of certain programs or certain services.
Senator Rompkey: I am not sure I understand. What are the problems you have with it?
Ms Turmel: I will say it in French.
Ms Turmel: The devolution of certain programs or of the decision-making power to the local level could result in the service being different in every single office or community where the decisions are made.
That is what we are concerned about. That is why we have problems with this approach. In some places, benefits could me more generous, and less so in other places. People looking for a job or who are without a job for a while will not all be treated the same way.
Who will be those most affected? Women, immigrant men and women who will face this problem.
Senator Rompkey: Do you mean that staff would interpret the regulations differently or make decisions on a different basis; that there would be less control? Is that what you are saying?
Ms Turmel: Exactly.
Mr. Pascucci: The other aspect of that is that much of the localized control will be done by separate agencies and organizations. You will have different standards in terms of the services that are available and the end results. I know there is a three-year period of accountability and a review to see if the thing works, but three years is not a long period of time to ensure that it works. Basically, what will happen is that, as this chart shows, to show that it is effective, the ones who will get the aid are the ones who are most likely to succeed. You want to marginalize our clientele.
Senator Rompkey: It was my experience before that when decisions were made in either St. John's or Halifax or Ottawa, they were made by people who knew nothing of what was going on at the local level, and often they were inappropriate decisions and not sensitive to local needs or conditions. It seemed to me that moving the decision-making to the local level was a good step. I am surprised by your view on that.
Ms Diane Kilby, National Vice-President, CEIU, Headquarters Region, Public Service Alliance of Canada: One of the decisions made at the local level was the Canada Employment Centre in Halifax. There was a decision made by the administration in Nova Scotia to close a Canada Employment Centre which specifically served people from the aboriginal and the black community. Our members who serve that clientele in terms of training and in terms of finding jobs believe that that decision was wrong. It has been transferred to another area where people cannot afford to get to, even by bus. It is a prime example of the fact that services devolved to the local level are not necessarily better services.
I think we fall a bit in love with the concept that if it is local it is better, and that is not necessarily so.
Senator Rompkey: Had it been bad across the board? Would you move it back to what it was before?
Ms Kilby: We have not done enough homework. We have not done enough research. I suspect that probably the best solution is a combination, but that is not how this is being done. This is being done by decree, saying what will be without necessarily following through. It is quite right that we will have different standards. We already have problems with different standards of services from office to office and from region to region. That will be compounded by this legislation.
Our members are working in offices with people who do not necessarily know the answers they are being paid to provide answers, and it is coming back to the workers who are, frankly, at this point, not sure what will happen to them. Our department is not prepared to make any commitment to the people as result of last Thursday's announcement and are not prepared to make a commitment to people in terms of where their jobs will be, or indeed if they will have jobs. We are not able to obtain those kind of answers.
Mr. Pascucci: There have been local advisory boards before in terms of local communities. They should have been more effective. In some areas, they probably were, while in others they were not. The result probably depended on how much the manager of the local Employment Centre dealt with the community. That orientation has been intensified.
The other aspect, of course, is the labour force development board in terms of what it was supposed to do around decentralizing many of the employment programs and creating the localized market. There have been mechanisms in place to give that local authority, but the concern is the standard of the services that will be there. Obviously, a program in a place like St. John's can deliver more services and more of the bucks than a place like Happy Valley. That is a real problem.
Senator Rompkey: I do not quite understand why that is so. They could deliver more services from St. John's to Happy Valley than Happy Valley could with the same amount of money?
Mr. Pascucci: They would have a larger base and a larger pot of money in terms of dealing with it, so they would have more flexibility than a localized place like Happy Valley; whereas, if you have regulating standards and national objectives of some sort, that would compensate for that material to help the situation.
The Chair: Some witnesses who have come before this committee who are in the construction and trades industry have told us that if they are going to use hours instead of weeks to calculate UI, why would they not agree to what we call hour banking. Have you people talked about the banking of hours, which would allow you to carry hours forward from one year to the next, which you could use to calculate your number of weeks required? If you had hours left over that you did not need to collect UI, you could carry them forward. Have you heard of that concept since you started discussing this bill?
Ms Turmel: We did not really discuss this. At a first glance, this could mainly encourage access to overtime, to very long days in other to accumulate time. Who will be disadvantaged by this principle? Women with young children, students who are trying to accumulate hours and who study at night to get their degree, immigrant men and women. These people are already disadvantaged in our society. That is my initial response.
The Chair: Is there something about this bill with which you do agree?
Ms Turmel: Essentially, we accept the principle of an hour-based system, but we oppose the number of hours required. This is the only thing we find interesting in this situation.
Ms Kilby: I want to address the concept you are calling banking hours, which we sometimes call lay days. It benefits primarily unionized workers working on boats and in the oil industry, et cetera. In terms of the hour system, you have to look at this as a complete pie. Looking at hours in terms of qualification and what will happen with the benefit rate, the department itself, in its information document, says that workers with fewer weeks and less attachment to the labour force are the ones who will be adversely impacted. They say that these workers would primarily be short-term seasonal workers and people with unstable work patterns. People with unstable work patterns are, in the majority, women and new entrants into the labour force.
It is important for people who come from areas with high unemployment rates to think about the consequences of the new intensity rule. It is somehow a sin to have drawn benefits over more years. Someone who is banking hours may not end up having to do this because they will have an accumulation. If the unemployment rate in your region is only 10.5 per cent, which in these times is not particularly high, your benefit rate right now with 15 weeks of insured earnings, which is not a great attachment to the labour force in terms of seasonal work, would be $110. Under the new legislation, because they will add that two-week period on, your rate will immediately fall to $97. Also, if you file a claim every year for five years, which you are likely to do as a seasonal worker, you will end up with a benefit rate, in five years' time, of $88 per week. That means that you will have a 25 per cent reduction in your income if you are a seasonal worker.
Given the rates of unemployment in this country, and given the number of people who have that kind of short-term attachment to the labour force, this is a very serious impact. Think about whether you could live on $88 a week.
The Chair: Thank you very much for appearing tonight. We appreciate the points of view you have brought to the committee.
The committee adjourned.