MP Tweed Speaks on Improvements to Employment Insurance – May 31, 2012
Mr. Merv Tweed (Brandon—Souris, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.
Our government cannot support a motion that is factually incorrect. The changes we are introducing would ensure that Canadians are always better off working than not.
By accepting a reasonable job under the new definition, Canadians would actually increase their income from what they were collecting on EI, and in many cases that increase would be substantial. That is why our government is investing in connecting Canadians with jobs in their local labour markets.
These fair and reasonable measures announced a week ago today by my hon. colleague the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development would help Canadians return to work more quickly. This would help address the growing skills and labour shortage in Canada by helping Canadians who want to work get back to work. These are necessary changes to ensure the EI program is working more effectively for Canada and for Canadians.
At the same time, we recognize that there are Canadians who are having difficulty finding work, particularly in the off-season in parts of the country where much of the economy is based on seasonal industries. Our government is committed to helping these Canadians find jobs they are qualified for in their local labour markets.
But for those individuals who live in areas of high unemployment and are unable to find jobs, the employment insurance system will be there for them, as it always has been.
These EI improvements are only the most recent in a series of economic action plan measures we have introduced to support jobs, growth and economic development. One of the programs that helped us achieve this economic success is the work-sharing program. I have had experience with that in a previous life, in my business experience. It has made a difference to both employees and employers alike in helping them survive the ups and downs of economic recovery.
Through the economic action plan, the Conservative government made the work-sharing program more accessible and extended its duration to help minimize the effects of the economic downturn on Canadian companies and their employees.
Since February 2009, more than 300,000 Canadians have benefited from the work-sharing program under the more than 11,000 agreements signed with employers.
How does it work? Work-sharing helps businesses avoid temporary layoffs when facing a reduction in the normal level of activity that is beyond their control. A good example would be manufacturing jobs, where economic slowdowns mean orders dry up unexpectedly. If workers agree to a reduced work week while their employer recovers, they may receive EI benefits, effectively allowing two or three workers to share one job but to still have their job.
Employers are able to retain their skilled employees and avoid the costly process of recruiting and training new employees when businesses return to normal levels. Employees keep their jobs and maintain their skills, all the while supplementing their wages with EI benefits for the days they are not working. They have helped their employer stay in business and stay open in the community, and they have not had to sacrifice their take-home pay.
This is the type of well-functioning program Canadians have come to expect from this government and it is a win-win for everyone involved.
Unlike the divisive politics of members opposite who try to pit one region of Canada against another, our government believes in programs, such as the work-sharing program, that are equally available everywhere in Canada, and that is important to note.
There are plenty of success stories that highlight how effective this program is, and if I may, I will share a couple.
Mascot Truck Parts, based in Ontario, was founded in 1936. The company has evolved over the past seven decades to become one of the largest heavy-duty specialists in North America, applying its expertise to rebuilding all makes of transmissions, differentials and steering gears.
The economic downturn hit the manufacturing and automotive industry hard and this had a major impact on Mascot. To avoid layoffs and keep the business running, the company signed a work-sharing agreement that began in August 2009 and ended in July 2010. It allowed Mascot Truck Parts to keep 107 employees and avoid laying anyone off when it was affected by the downturn.
In Alberta, there is a 475-person company called Standen’s Limited that benefited from a work-sharing agreement between March 2009 and May 2010. The company manufactures heat-treated alloy steel products, such as leaf springs, tillage tools, trailer axles and other speciality products used for heavy-duty agriculture, transportation and light military vehicle applications.
The business exports internationally to the U.S., South America, Australia, New Zealand and China. When the downturn started to affect its bottom line, Standen’s was able to keep its original staff on the payroll. Thanks to work-sharing, the business was staffed up, ready to roll when product demand resumed.
I have given two concrete examples of an effective EI program that works. The measures we introduced to support job growth and economic recovery have given us the strongest job growth numbers in the G8, something we should all be very proud of.
As Canada continues to move out of the recession, the Canadian labour market is shifting from one where we needed programs like work-sharing to one where there is a skills and labour shortage. With this evolution, our government is removing the disincentives to work that exist within the EI system to ensure we can match Canadians with available jobs in their local labour markets that are appropriate to their skill sets.
The communities I live in and represent in Brandon—Souris, Manitoba, are right now exemplifying exactly what is happening. We have a high demand for skilled labour, and unfortunately those people are not available within our region. I am not saying people should have to move, but if they choose to, Brandon—Souris is a great place to come and live, and the job opportunities are plenty. I would compare the lifestyle to any other part of Canada.
In closing, I urge my hon. colleagues to support our measured and reasonable changes to the employment insurance system. It is for this reason that I cannot support the opposition motion today.