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New EI parental benefits reinforce existing inequities and won’t make up for the lack of affordable infant child care

On November 9, 2017, federal Minister for Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos announced that the changes to maternity and parental Employment Insurance benefits will take effect December 3, 2017.

Under the amended Employment Insurance Act:

  • Mothers will have the right to start receiving their maternity EI benefits up 12 weeks before the expected birth (up from 8 weeks).
  • Parents will have the right to receive parental EI benefits for 35 weeks at the rate of 55 per cent of their regular weekly earnings up to a maximum of $543 per week, or 61 weeks at the rate of 33 per cent of their regular weekly earnings up to a maximum of $326 per week.

Longer leave with lower pay not a solution to the child care crisis

In a position paper on maternity and parental EI benefit reform, the CCAAC points out that the lack of  affordable child care for children under 18 months is making parents desperate for solutions but that a longer leave period at a lower weekly benefit is not the answer.

“We know, and this was confirmed in the federal government’s consultation process on parental leave, that the lack of affordable and available child care for children under 18 months is what is driving many of those who support a longer leave period,” said Morna Ballantyne, Executive Director of the CCAAC.

“The problem, though, is that few parents—and only those with other financial resources—will be able to opt for the longer leave because the benefit level of 33 per cent is so low, and because so many parents don’t qualify for EI in the first place,” she said.

Quebec plan is fairer

Researchers McKay, Doucet and Mathieu concluded in their study Parental-leave rich and parental-leave poor: Inequality in Canadian labour market based leave policies that 36 percent of all mothers who live on-reserve and outside Quebec do not qualify for EI maternity/parental benefits. In contrast, only 11 percent of Quebec mothers fail to qualify for benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.

The CCAAC says the federal government should have brought the federal EI maternity and parental program in line with Quebec’s by:

  • Reducing the eligibility requirement to the lesser of 300 hours of insurable earnings prior to taking leave, or by adopting the same $2,000 annual minimum earnings rule that exists in Quebec
  • Raising the EI benefit level for maternity/parental leave from 55 per cent of previous earnings to a minimum of 70 per cent, similar to Quebec benefits
  • Introduce an additional benefit (modelled on Quebec’s paternity leave) for the exclusive use of the “second” parent regardless of gender.

Evidence-based reforms needed

CCAAC is urging the federal government to monitor closely the impact of the EI changes over the next two years, and make the data public. Further, the CCAAC would like the federal government to establish a special working group that includes policy experts, equality and child care advocates to carry out a proper gender analysis of the changes and to identify further reforms required to give parents real choice and options with respect to the care of children in their early years.

Join the fight for quality, affordable, inclusive child care at childcareforall.ca.