Unifor urges swift changes to EI for parental leave

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Unifor Quebec Director stands at the left-hand of a group of 7 people, with a backdrop of Canadian provincial flags.

Quebec Director Daniel Cloutier spoke on behalf of Unifor alongside NDP MP for Elmwood-Transcona Daniel Blaikie to demand changes to Employment Insurance (EI) that currently discriminate against new parents.

“For those who have never accessed EI benefits, they may not realize that current EI rules only allow the combination of special benefits like maternity, parental, sickness or compassionate caring leave benefits and regular unemployment benefits to a maximum of 50 weeks - even though these leaves fall under protected grounds in human rights legislation,” Cloutier said to reporters from the Press Gallery on Parliament Hill.  "By having taken maternity, parental, sickness or care leaves, unemployed workers are deprived of their full entitlement to EI – which they pay for."

“Are we to understand that gender-based discrimination is acceptable to this government because it would cost money to end it?" said Cloutier.

Unifor Quebec Director Daniel Cloutier standing at a podium.

Other union representatives from CUPE, the Canadian Labour Congress, and Mouvement Action-Chomage were also present to deliver remarks in support of these recommended changes.

“All we’re calling for is for the government to do right by predominantly women across the country who are accessing maternity and parental benefits,” said Blaikie. “It’s a good investment, it’s a small investment, and it’s going to make a big difference for Canadian families.”

In their 2021 election platform, the Liberals committed to ‘Move forward with a stronger and more inclusive EI system that addresses gaps made obvious during COVID-19’.

The previous Minister responsible for EI, Minister Carla Qualtrough, admitted in a media report that not being able to combine regular and special benefits creates an equity issue, particularly for new mothers, and said it was “definitely top of mind”. 

“Unifor has addressed this issue at the bargaining table by negotiating additional income support measures in several sectors to mask the issue,” said Cloutier. But he noted it is not sufficient to simply address this issue one workplace at a time and must be a priority of government to address for all workers.

In June of 2021, Unifor released a special policy paper entitled Securing an Inclusive, Equitable and Resilient Employment Insurance Program for Workers in Canada in which the union asked the federal government to eliminate the 50-week limit on combined special benefits and unemployment benefits and extend the reference and benefit period to at least 104 weeks to address the issue.

The Interprovincial EI Working Group (of which Unifor is a member) is also demanding the Government allow special EI benefits and regular benefits to be combined for up to 104 weeks in total.  

In addition to this important change for workers, Unifor has been tirelessly advocating for changes to the Employment Insurance program that would more equitably support workers across sectors, regions, and situations.

“Unifor stands in solidarity with the countless others who remain unprotected with a plea to the government to finally follow through on their commitments,” added Cloutier.

Reforms recommended by the union address diverse needs, promote inclusivity, and fortify the EI system against future uncertainties, creating a robust safety net for workers.

For more information and to support Unifor’s calls for change, visit unifor.org/fixEI

Media Contact

Véronique Figliuzzi

Communications Representative - Québec

Shelley Amyotte

National Communications Representative - Atlantic Region