Mr. Paul E. Cote (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Labour):
Mr. Speaker, this bill provides for amendments to the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act, which was passed by parliament in 1946. That act replaced and largely embodied the provisions of the merchant seamen compensation regulations of 1945, passed under the authority of the War Measures Act.
The act provides for payment of compensation to seamen who are injured in the course of their employment, and to dependents of seamen who are killed in the course of their employment, and who are not covered in respect of the accident under any provincial workmen's compensation act.
A seaman who cannot claim compensation under any provincial compensation act is eligible therefore to claim for benefits under the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act, if he is employed on a ship of Canadian registry, or one under charter to a person resident in Canada or having his principal place of business in Canada if the ship is on a foreign or "home trade voyage". I might explain that a home trade voyage covers coastal trade voyages and is defined in the Canada Shipping Act, but does not include a voyage on inland waters in Canada; a foreign trade voyage is a voyage extending beyond the limits of a home trade voyage.
The amendments are very simple. They provide for an upward revision in the scale of benefits payable under the act, having regard for the changes in the seamen's earnings and changes in living conditions which have occurred in the past several years since the passage of the act.
Merchant Seamen Compensation Act
Under the present provisions of the act, claims are not considered where an accident does not result in disabling a seaman from earning full wages for seven days. We propose to reduce this period to four days. It is also proposed to raise the ceiling of yearly earnings for use in the computation of compensation from $2,500 to $3,600.
The significant changes in cash benefits which are provided in the bill are as follows:
1. The maximum payment towards the funeral expenses of a deceased seaman is increased from $125 to $200;
2. The amount of the monthly allowance or pension to the widow of a deceased seaman is increased from $45 to $50, and the same increase applies in the case of an invalid husband who was dependent on the earnings of a deceased wife employed on a ship;
3. Where there are dependent children as well as a widow or invalid husband, the monthly payment for each child under 18 years of age is to be increased from $10 to $15 and, in the event of the death of the widowed mother or invalid father, the monthly amount paid to the dependent children is increased from $20 to $25 for each child;
4. In the case of a deceased seaman who leaves no widow but leaves dependent children under 18 years of age, the monthly payment to each child is increased from $20 to $25.
I should explain at this point that the act provides that the total compensation payable to the widow and children of a deceased seaman is not to exceed in any event the average earnings of the seaman prior to his decease.
5. The minimum amount of compensation to which an injured seaman is entitled for temporary total or permanent total disability which is now fixed at $12.50 per week or the sum equivalent to the seaman's earnings if less than that, is increased to a minimum of $15 per week, or a sum equivalent to the seaman's earnings if less than that.
On January 1, 1950, the responsibility for administering the act which previously had been vested in the Minister of Transport (Mr. Chevrier) was transferred to the Minister of Labour (Mr. Gregg) by virtue of an order in council passed under the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act. This transfer of administration is given statutory effect in the amendments to the act contained in this bill.
Since the act came into force, or I should say since the regulations of 1945 were made effective, there have been 578 accidents reported as coming under the regulations or act. The number has been declining year
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Merchant Seamen Compensation Act by year because the employing shipping companies covered by the act have decreased in number from 102 in 1947 to 66 in the last fiscal year. Their number has now increased to 90 as of this date.
Our act covers seamen on ships of Canadian registry or operated by companies or persons with chief place of business in Canada. There has been a switch from Canadian to other registry to account for the decrease I have mentioned. This decrease has been counteracted in the current fiscal year by an influx of new registrations, mainly from Newfoundland.
As hon. members will know, we do not pay any compensation from federal funds. By the act, shipping companies are required to place the necessary liability insurance to cover the risks of compensation arising under the act. Payments of compensation by a company under the act are covered by the insurance policy.
The claims for compensation arising under the act are adjudicated by a board known as the merchant seamen compensation board composed of three officers of the public service.
Cost of administration was $3,463 in the fiscal year 1951-52. Every employer coming under our act pays $25 a year, and there is an additional assessment on companies whose employees suffer accidents. This is an amount based on the number of such accidents, and equals the balance of cost of administration over and above that collected through the annual $25 assessment.
We think this is a worth-while amendment to the act, even if it does apply only to relatively few people. It is necessary for the protection of our seamen and their dependents. I am sure it will commend itself to the house.
Topic: WAYS AND MEANS
Subtopic: MERCHANT SEAMEN