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NDP, labour groups want new parents to be able to access EI if they lose their job

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New Democrats and labour leaders are calling on Ottawa to change the employment insurance program so Canadians who take parental leave can still access unemployment benefits if they are out of work.

Under current rules, a worker who pays into the system has to work a specific number of hours to qualify for benefits, and must do so for each new claim they make.

That means a new parent who has lost their job after taking parental leave has to work the necessary hours anew to get their regular benefits.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie and labour leaders held a news conference this morning and called the current system discriminatory, particularly against new mothers.

“If a new parent loses their job after their maternity leave, or in the lead up to their maternity leave, or if they’re laid off while they’re on a maternity or parental leave, it means that they can’t access income assistance,” Blaikie said.

“That puts a lot of financial strain on new families in addition to all of the workload that comes with being new parents.”

Blaikie, who wrote to Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault on the matter, also blasted the government for appealing a decision from a federal tribunal that found employment insurance rules discriminated against new mothers.

In January 2022, the Social Security Tribunal ruled that sections of the Employment Insurance Act violated women’s constitutional rights to equality under the law, saying the government hadn’t shown that Charter violations were “justified in a fair and democratic society.”

The case was brought by six women who lost their jobs either during or right after parental leave and had their EI claims rejected because they hadn’t worked the minimum number of hours needed to qualify for benefits.

Boissonnault responded to Blaikie’s letter in a statement, saying that the government has been “active” in modernizing the EI system.

“As this issue is currently before the court, we cannot comment on specifics at this moment,” Boissonnault said.

The Liberal government pledged to reform the employment insurance program during the last election, but it pushed off that promise amid a weakening economy.

It has instead introduced small tweaks to the program, while remaining mum on its promise to overhaul a system that’s widely considered to be outdated.

In 2022, former employment minister Carla Qualtrough indicated the Liberals wanted to bring in a fix for new parents so that they can still access regular benefits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2024.

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