Bill C-243 has two parts. The first part provides for the development and implementation of a national maternity program strategy. The second part proposes amendments to the Employment Insurance Act to improve the benefit structure for women who perform dangerous jobs and as such are unable to work due to their pregnancy. Specifically, Bill C-243 would allow a claimant in these situations to begin using her 15 weeks of maternity benefits as early as 15 weeks before her expected due date. This would be seven weeks earlier than what the current rules allow.
In mid-2014, Melodie was told by her medical practitioner that she could no longer continue welding during her pregnancy as the function of her job created an unsafe environment for her unborn child. Forced to stop working, and with no programs available to help her situation, Melodie suffered serious financial hardship as she waited to receive her EI maternity benefits. With no income, Melodie lost her home and was forced to move in with friends.
Frustrated with the shortcomings of the system, Melodie brought her concerns to her Member of Parliament, Mark Gerretsen, who would go on to introduce Bill C-243: The National Maternity Assistance Program in the House of Commons on February 26th 2016. Melodie lives in Kingston with her 11 month old son, Ezra, and has been actively involved in supporting the private member’s bill she inspired.
This part requires the Minister of Employment and Social Development, in collaboration with other federal ministers, representatives of the provincial and territorial governments, and other relevant stakeholders, to conduct consultations on the prospect of developing a national maternity assistance program to support women who are unable to work due to pregnancy and whose employer is unable to accommodate them by providing reassignment.
The consultations must include an assessment of:
a) the current demand for a national maternity assistance program;
b) the adequacy of the current federal and provincial programs oriented to assisting women during pregnancy;
c) the financial and other costs of implementing a national maternity assistance program;
d) the potential social and economic benefits of a national maternity assistance program; and
e) any legal, constitutional or jurisdictional implications of implementing a national maternity assistance program
a) The Minister must, within a year after the day on which this Act comes into force, hold consultations with representatives of the provincial and territorial governments responsible for employment and other relevant stakeholders for the purpose of discussing the development of a strategy to implement a national maternity assistance program.
b) Present a report setting out the conclusions of the consultations on a national maternity assistance program to be laid before each House of Parliament within two years after the day on which this Act comes into force.
c) The Minister must post the report on the departmental website within 30 days after the day on which the report is tabled in Parliament.
d) Within three years of the tabling of the report, and every three years after that, the Minister must prepare a report setting out his or her conclusions and recommendations regarding the strategy, and cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of Parliament on any of the first 15 days on which that House is sitting after the report is completed.
Under the current rules, women can only begin claiming their 15 weeks of EI maternity benefits 8 weeks prior to expected confinement or when the child is born, whichever is earliest. This bill proposes an amendment to the Employment Insurance Act which would allow a claimant to use their EI maternity benefits as early as 15 weeks prior to the date of expected confinement if several conditions are met. The conditions which must be satisfied for this exception to apply include:
a) Having acquired the requisite number of hours and fulfilled all other regular conditions to be eligible for EI under the current system. In other words, the general requirements for EI maternity benefits will not change under this proposed bill.
b) The woman must provide a certificate completed by a medical professional attesting that she cannot perform her current duties or modified work because it may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child (e.g. exposure to fumes, physically demanding work).
c) The employer is unable to modify her job functions or reassign her to another job for each week of unemployment in the period.
“I was stunned when I discovered that no program exists to help me. Canada needs a national strategy to ensure my experience is not repeated, and so pregnant workers of dangerous jobs are fully included in our system” – Melodie Ballard, Mother, Welder and The Inspiration for Bill C-243
“Enhanced flexibility and maternity benefits would greatly increase the health and safety of the mother and unborn child plus offer great advantages to employers.” – Jamie McMillan, Iron Worker and Advocate For Women in Trades