Hon. Michael Starr (Minister of Labour):
Mr. Speaker, I beg leave of the house to table copies of order in council P.C. 1957-1477 revoking section 161 of the regulations of the Unemployment Insurance Act regarding married women. Perhaps for the information of the house I might make a statement at this time.
I should like to announce that effective November 17 the unemployment insurance commission is revoking its regulation that imposed additional conditions for the receipt of unemployment insurance benefit on certain married women. In other words, as far as unemployment insurance is concerned married women in the labour force will now be on exactly the same footing as all other claimants in the labour force.
Perhaps I should take a minute or two in order to outline the events and reasonings that led to this decision, and I believe I can best begin by noting the special conditions to which married women have been subject.
In effect, the regulation required any woman who claimed benefit within two years after the date of her marriage to have 10 contribution weeks during that period; and further, if she was working at the time of her marriage the 10 contribution weeks had to be made after her first separation from that employment. This special condition purported to show that the claimant had not left the labour market as a consequence of getting married.
There were, of course, exceptions to this rule. The additional condition did not have to be fulfilled if her separation from employment was a consequence of her employer's policy against retaining married women; or if, for instance, she was laid off because of a shortage of work. But in spite of the exceptions quite a number of married women have been affected by this regulation ever since it came into being.
The married women's regulation was introduced in 1950, and it has had a stormy life in the seven years of its existence. As with everything that has overtones of discrimination, it has been a focal point for controversy, and that is perhaps one of the most cogent reasons for abandoning it.
At the time this regulation was introduced it was argued that a goodly number of newly married women, who had ceased to depend entirely on their own earnings, were nevertheless representing themselves as seeking work for the purpose of drawing benefit. I have always felt that this was a highly dangerous argument since it implied that one knew, without possibility of error, what was in another person's mind.
Again, it was suggested that married women were making far more claims in proportion to their numbers than were single women or men. This again was a dangerous argument, since it involved casting the shadow of suspicion on an entire class numbering in the hundreds of thousands because it was felt, although it could not be proved, that there was chicanery on the part of a few.
Since 1950 I know various hon. members have from time to time fulminated against the provisions of this regulation. Perhaps the most persistent and effective champion of the rights of married women in this regard is the Secretary of State, the hon. member for Hamilton West (Mrs. Fairclough). Again, throughout the recent election campaign the Conservative party promised that one of their first acts in office would be the revocation of this regulation.
I think there are two basic reasons why we rejected the arguments of those who were its proponents. First, there is an almost natural repugnance against anything that has the slightest shading of discrimination, even though the motives of those who favour it are of the highest. Second, and perhaps more important, I believe we sensed that those who favoured the married women's regulations were completely ignoring one inexorable fact. That fact was that the working wife or mother was not a temporary product of world war II but was in fact the indication of a new social trend. If married women in the labour force had only been a temporary phenomenon of the war years and the immediate post-war years, in all likelihood this particular problem would long ago have solved itself. But the married woman in the labour force has long since proved herself to be no temporary phenomenon.
From June 1951 to June 1957 the number of married women in the labour force increased from 303,000 to 543,000, a gain of 80 per cent. Some of this increase is due no doubt to older women returning to employment when their children have reached an age when they no longer require their
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Unemployment Insurance mother's full time. It is, however, probably safe to assume that the increase is due in the main to the growing extent to which single women, upon becoming married, continue to work. This I think is the new social trend which I noted a few moments ago.
Because of the economic factors that have been at work during these past years more and more women have found it necessary to continue working after marriage in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Again, it is likely that many married women continue to work because they enjoy the stimulation of the many contacts afforded by a working day as opposed to the housewifely routine. It is a known fact that nowadays many women take a temporary leave of absence for the purpose of childbirth and resume their normal working routine as soon as satisfactory arrangements are made for the care of the child. This is a pattern that has now won wide acceptance both in industry and in the civil service. And, I might add, it is a pattern that strongly indicates that married women are in the labour force to stay, for as far into the future as one can look.
In view of the undoubted importance and permanence of married women as working women, there is no justification for retaining a regulation which implies that statements made by them as to availability and willingness to work are less reliable than similar statements made by other classes of insured persons. There is no justification for retaining a regulation that forces married women to be treated differently from other groups, such as persons who are on pension from their former employers and seasonal workers. Most of all there is no justification for retaining a regulation that discriminates against those married women who, although unable to meet the additional condition that applies to them, are genuinely in the labour market.
I believe that whatever good it may have done is far outweighed by this single effect it has had.
I should like to conclude by noting that each year some 12,000 married women will now be entitled to the protection of unemployment insurance benefit, protection that this regulation has prevented them from receiving. By that I mean 12,000 is the number of married women who were disqualified in the past year by regulation 161. Although this revocation is not retroactive, I would suggest that married women who have been disqualified under this regulation should get in touch with their national employment office to have their claims reviewed. In the event that the review of their claim indicates that the disqualification might be removed, we would wish to have no delay in the implementation of that removal.
Subtopic: TABLING OF ORDER IN COUNCIL RESPECTING BENEFITS TO MARRIED WOMEN