Mr. Bruce Halliday (Oxford):
Madam Speaker, at the outset may I say we have heard several erudite speeches this evening and these have dealt well with the philosophical and ideological implications of Bill C-16. I should like to take a few minutes to deal with a number of practicalities and suggest ways of solving certain problems. Along with my party in general, I support this omnibus bill
Status of Women
which appears to be an attempt to provide equality of status as between males and females in our society.
I should like to make a few comments about the amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Act as applied to maternity cases, and the manner in which benefits are given out. I might say I question whether this omnibus bill is the appropriate place for these amendments. Successive ministers in this government have promised to bring in amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1971. It appears they have failed to produce them because undoubtedly they were afraid of being defeated in the House. Again, they have talked about amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Act, and there certainly is a need for a whole series of them. They were to have been brought in some time ago, but there is still little evidence that the government intends to move in this direction.
The cost of maternity benefits under the Unemployment Insurance Act is one which remains approximately the same from year to year. In 1973, according to the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Committee, almost $67 million were expended in benefits. Certainly maternity benefits do not rise or fall with unemployment rates to nearly the same extent as regular benefits. It is interesting to me that sickness benefits paid out in 1973 amounted to a little more than $80 million.
The proposed changes are, indeed, welcomed. The records of the committee studying the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1971 show that the need for these changes was brought to the attention of the minister at that time. The answer then was that the requirement concerning the eight weeks previous to the confinement and the seven weeks after the confinement was in keeping with established international labour legislation. I would be interested to hear whether this international legislation has taken a different course, or whether there is new thinking on these matters.
Eligibility to receive maternity benefits under the act rests, first of all, upon the ability to provide a medical certificate. This would, presumably, not create any difficulty for most people, but there might be a few cases in isolated areas where pre-natal care is carried out by medical personnel who do not hold medical degrees, and in such circumstances it might be difficult to get such a certificate easily. I hope provision will be made in the regulations to take care of any hardship cases which might arise.
The second criterion of eligibility requires the applicant to have worked for at least 20 weeks within the year preceding the claim or since the last unemployment insurance claim. This is at variance with the regular benefits which may be obtained after only eight weeks of regular employment. The 20-week stipulation is in line, I believe, with the sickness provision, but it does create significant problems for claimants if they get caught in certain anomalous positions. For instance, if a woman temporarily collecting unemployment benefits becomes pregnant and then finds work but is unable to continue so as to accumulate 20 weeks of employment, because of her pregnancy she will not be eligible for any benefits even though she is a permanent member of the work force and a bona fide working person. I do not know what might be done in cases such as this, but possibly a careful framing of the
May 29, 1975
Status of Women
regulations might be of help. I should like to hear from the minister on this point; we should certainly look carefully at this aspect in committee so that untoward hardship may be avoided.
Again, difficulties might arise in cases where a woman is an active member of the labour force at the time of conception. Human nature being what it is, few women remember precisely when they became pregnant, and as the months go by they become even more hazy as to when conception occurred. Most rule of thumb methods used to identify this date are based upon the date of the woman's last menstrual period. However, this is not a reliable guide due to the extreme variations in the physiological activities of women.
Most full time pregnancies are considered to last approximately 280 days, but again there seem to be wide variations. There is the celebrated case in English jurisprudence in which, in a paternity suit, the court accepted a gestation period of well over 300 days. Therefore the regulations governing the eligibility of maternity benefits under the Unemployment Insurance Act should be looked at carefully to prevent situations arising which will deprive people of their benefits through peculiar circumstances.
Further, in the pay-out of benefits considerable difficulty arises for recipients of maternity benefits. Pamphlets underline the fact to the recipient that "Your benefit payments begin after you have served the required two week waiting period". This statement is not only misleading but somewhat fallacious. Eligibility begins after a two week waiting period, but payment will not be received until five to seven weeks after the applicant's interruption of earnings. Nowhere is this fact documented and, as a result, many families budget on the expectation that they will be receiving benefit payments two weeks after application.
In other words, a single parent family, or family with no visible income outside that of the woman's, may go for up to two months without receiving any benefits or any income. The only alternative is welfare. However, when UIC benefits are viewed as insurance and a "right", as the government proclaims, this is really a poor alternative.
In this area the government might consider whether the waiting period prior to receiving benefits could be speeded up. Certainly there are individual cases where, if the mother were the only wage earner in the family and were closely tied to her work for necessary income, she would suffer considerably. A change of the benefit period, which is something that I mentioned as being deficient in the old act, is to be welcomed. Benefits can be collected to a maximum of 15 weeks. However, this period was broken down to a maximum of eight weeks previous to confinement, then one week of confinement, and six weeks after confinement.
Babies have a habit of arriving early, due to the uncertainty of the mother as to her exact dates. Complications may arise leading to an early delivery, and in many cases late delivery. By and large, women prefer to work closer to their date of confinement and really, in many cases, they need extra weeks after the confinement rather than before
the confinement. Certainly in a fair percentage of maternity cases the mother may have had unusual complications, or her infant may have developed problems that make it important that she has more time out of the work force after her confinement, both to provide for her own health and that of her child. Certainly this provision is welcomed, and it should certainly have been included in the first place. I think it is fair to say that it was the rigidity of bureaucratic thinking that prevented it from being put in previously.
This bill also removes the built-in work disincentive in that the woman who worked closer to her date of confinement was penalized in favour of those who took leave early. Therefore in the whole concept it has become fairer and, as such, will be welcomed.
Finally, turning to eligibility for regular benefits, several problems arise. Recipients of maternity benefits become eligible for regular benefits when the child is seven weeks old. In certain areas the recipient becomes eligible only when she is actively looking for work and can produce a certificate that child care arrangements have been made.
A survey in the Ottawa-Carleton region by phone turned up the following. There are very few day care centres, and of those surveyed only three made provision for a seven week old child. They all thoroughly discouraged the admission of the seven week old child. Of the estimated 1,000 children under three months, only five are receiving day care. Furthermore, most child day care centres contacted have an average waiting period of four months. In other words, this stipulation under the provision for maternity benefits would essentially disqualify the average mother from receiving any benefits after the initial six week period. I believe this is one area where further government input should be made. Certainly if the woman is a single family parent she may have great difficulty.
So, in summary, Mr. Speaker, this bill does offer improvement over the status quo, but there are indeed some snags which ought to be removed from these amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Act as proposed in Bill C-16.
Subtopic: STATUTE LAW (STATUS OF WOMEN) AMENDMENT ACT, 1974 MEASURE TO ESTABLISH EQUALITY OF STATUS FOR MALE AND FEMALE PERSONS UNDER CERTAIN STATUTES