Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee today to discuss and share some concerns around the bill.
My name is Steven Schumann. I am the government affairs director for the International Union of Operating Engineers, or IUOE, for short. We are a progressive and diversified trade union. We represent workers in a wide variety of occupational categories. Our members help to build Canada's infrastructure, and they are involved in the production of Canada's resources and the delivery of critical health care and community services. We have been in existence since 1896.
Currently in Canada we have over 45,000 members, with representation in every province and territory through our 20 locals. We also have eight state-of-the-art training centres that develop and deliver heavy equipment operator training and a wide range of construction safety courses catering to the present and future needs of the construction industry. Many of our training centres deliver the provincial training programs for our trades.
Construction workers represent the largest share of our membership, around 30,000 members. They operate tower and mobile cranes. They operate heavy machinery, like bulldozers, graders, and backhoes. They are the mechanics and surveyors who work on the construction sites. They are the first to a job site and the last to leave. They work for commercial construction companies and civil and industrial contractors. They build roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, pipelines, and oil refineries, just to name a few. Our members shape the infrastructure and the skylines of Canada.
We strongly believe it is important to work with our employers, other building trade unions, and all levels of government to ensure Canadians are provided with the best opportunities to work and provide for their families.
Since this legislation will provide additional benefits to many Canadians, including some of our members, we support Bill even though we have questions around the fairness of this legislation. More importantly, we believe there has been a missed opportunity to make real changes. The time spent on this legislation could have been spent overhauling and modernizing the system in a more global context rather than a singular approach.
Unfortunately, we believe this legislation shows there is a continued lack of understanding towards the construction sector. This government, like previous governments, believes that all sectors of our economy can be dealt with in a one-size-fits-all approach. This has been seen with other initiatives, like the agreement on internal trade that overlooked the construction sector in many ways. This singular approach does not work and it must stop, to ensure that Canada's construction sector can survive with the skilled people we require to get the jobs down.
While many workers in various sectors of our economy will be able to apply for these benefits, only a limited number of our members will meet the criteria of collecting less than 36 weeks of benefits in the past five years. The construction sector is a very unique industry; it is cyclical in nature, and activity often differs substantially from region to region. The industry ebbs and flows in cycles corresponding to the level of investment and the strength of the economy. These investments come from both the private sector and through public investment at all three levels of government.
The construction industry also often stays active at the beginning of a downturn in the economy as ongoing work continues to completion. In turn it lags behind recovery, as planning and preparation do not take place until investment is in place. This can be seen right now. There are many areas of the country that have stayed fairly busy through the early parts of 2009, but we forecast in 2010 and beyond that there may be a serious shortage of work in many of the same regions that are busy now. Construction jobs themselves are very unique. Every one of these jobs has an end date. It may be a week, a month, a year, but that job will end when the project ends.
These are not typical nine-to-five jobs. Our members work tirelessly. They work lots of overtime to ensure a job gets done and that it gets done on time. They also face many shortages of work. When the jobs end, our members go off to find new jobs. On a regular basis they will travel to a different part of the city or province they live in, or in some cases a different part of the country. This can create challenges for our workers. They are forced to relocate at their own cost, usually for short-term opportunities. This can leave them with a heavy financial burden, to say nothing of the impacts on their families.
Sometimes our members may find work right away, or it may take a few days, a week, or even six months or more; it all depends on the various factors that are well beyond their control. As a result, many of our members are forced to make several claims a year for EI benefits. This is the nature of the construction industry; this is what makes us so very different from other sectors of the economy.
Simply put, Bill does not take into account these variations of our work hours and work schedules; thus, many of our members are excluded from applying for these benefits. We estimate that several thousand of our members will be unable to apply. For example, in Quebec we believe that 80% of our local's membership, around 1,000 members, will not be able to access it; in B.C. it is around 20%, which is about 2,000 members; and in Ontario we are expecting the same numbers, if not higher.
These are members who have been working for 10, 15, 20 years and have been contributing fully to the employment insurance plan. They are now going to be treated differently from other Canadians because they don't have an opportunity to access these benefits.
Another concern we have, which Mr. Blakely will focus more on in his presentation, is the need for clarification around the impact this legislation will have on apprentices. Apprentices are essential, and they're the lifeline and future for our industry in particular. We need legislation that promotes and encourages apprentices to continue their schooling and training. If they are forced to leave their program and find another job, they're not coming back to construction to be an apprentice; we'll lose them forever.
We are already facing a significant skills shortage, and we need legislation to positively address this problem, not make it worse. We believe that could have the unintended consequences of making this situation much worse by forcing people out of apprenticeship programs because they can't seek these benefits and they need to look for more work. As I said, Mr. Blakely will focus a bit more on that.
We also believe that more has to be done, sooner rather than later. We cannot just pass this legislation and forget about doing more reforms. We believe there are several small but significant measures that need to be done, not only to make employment insurance fair for everyone, but also to encourage people to seek other employment rather than collect EI and to address the skills shortage issue.
Some of these measures would include creating one national EI standard that makes sense and that is fair for all regions; enhancing the work share program, because many of our members on the stationary side really do support that; more support for training and re-training to address some of the impending skills shortage; providing a tax credit or income deductibility to employees in the construction sector who want to travel across the country to work; and monetary incentives for employers to maintain and hire more apprentices.
We believe that by taking these measures you will ensure Canada can better respond to the needs of a post-recession economy and we will have the skills and workers available to fill the jobs that become available.
We are more than willing to participate in broader consultations with the government and all parties to develop viable solutions that benefit not only the construction sector but all sectors of the economy.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I'd like to thank you very much for taking the extra day to hear witnesses.
My name is Bob Blakely. I'm the Canadian director of the building trades. The building trades are the unions that represent construction workers in this country, everyone from the operating engineers Mr. Schumann represents, to refrigeration workers, pipefitters, electricians, and millwrights. We represent 50-odd trades and nearly 500,000 people.
With me today is Mr. Christopher Smillie, who is the policy analyst in our office. I'm introducing him because his dad said that if his name got in Hansard he would buy him dinner.
There is an issue that I believe has a very serious impact, and it is very important to a significant number of our members.
Mr. Schumann talked about a number of things we might want to see in EI. We're disappointed that there isn't a rationalization of the eligibility zones and anything to deal with the qualification period, but the long and the short of it is that we are prepared to support the broad strokes of Bill . We're prepared to support it because it will materially assist a number of our members who are currently unemployed.
A number of people are now unemployed simply because of the meltdown of the markets, and construction workers are the first people off the bus on the downside of the business cycle and the last to get on it. The extended benefits are something that....
There are a number of people who will be disadvantaged. We believe there is a strong possibility of an unintended consequence in respect of the application of extended benefits allowed under Bill for apprentices and those who are qualified within their trade but in the wording of the Employment Insurance Act are directed to programs to requalify either on new equipment or procedures.
Simply put, apprentices go to trade school. It is part of their work. In Ontario, a number of trades have a five-year apprenticeship: five periods of apprenticeship over five years, each of which extends for eight weeks. That's 40 weeks that they are in school. We expect them to go to school. They must go to school in order to qualify.
In Alberta, in the electrical, the instrumentation, or the refrigeration trades, it's three years at eight weeks and one year at 12 weeks. That's 40 weeks of training. These people are deemed by section 25 of the act to be unemployed and available for work, and there is no assistance in the definition of special benefits for them. It is entirely possible that apprentices who worked every hour they could for the last five years will be disentitled from the extended benefits because they got EI when they went to trade school.
It may seem that all you have to do is fish through the act to find a fix for this. Well, we tried very hard to talk to a significant number of people, in government, in opposition, and in the bureaucracy, and we ended up getting a number of people saying don't worry, be happy, and other people saying that maybe we are right and there is a possibility that something bad could happen.
I don't have a fix on the number of journeymen this could affect, but there are 400,000 apprentices in Canada, and 60% of them are in construction. They ought not to be disentitled because they went to trade school.
I am asking that with respect to the in-school portion of the training that people access EI to get--those are programs they are directed to by EI or that are approved by EI in accordance with the act--you not disentitle them either by a minor amendment in subsection 12(3) or by regulation. The negative impact of taking training and then finding out it disentitles you from getting EI for a significant period of years will work against what we're trying to do.
If you look at the demographics, construction, like many other industries, is a baby boom industry, with 70% of people being grey-hairs or no-hairs. They are going to retire shortly, and we need to replace them. This is the wrong time to discourage people from taking training.
We ask that you not lose sight of what could be an unintended consequence and make it clear that people who access training will not be disentitled from extended benefits in the event they become unemployed. After all, employment insurance is a contract of indemnity against a foreseeable event, that being losing your job.
I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much for your patience in listening.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, thanks to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons of Persons with Disabilities for inviting us to deliver our remarks about the bill.
Because we represent employers and companies from the province of Quebec, I will deliver my remarks in French.
The Quebec Employers Council operates in regular partnership with other organizations throughout the country, and, in particular, with the Canadian Employers Council. As it is not a provincial branch of a Canada-wide organization, the Quebec Employers Council has a keen independent interest in federal matters that affect Quebec employers, specifically issues of labour, development, human resources and taxation.
Employment insurance and all other payroll-based employer-funded plans are closely followed by the Employers Council. That is especially the case for employment insurance as employers fund the majority of the cost of the plan: their contribution is 40% higher than that of the workers.
We spoke publicly on the matter last September when the proposed amendment to the bill was announced. We come here today in person to reiterate the concerns that we raised then and that still remain.
The Employers Council first and foremost prefers that all enhancements made as a result of the current economic situation remain temporary. In this regard, we are pleased that the government has heard us.
Costs close to $1 billion, $935 million to be precise, amount to a major change in the plan. It is expected that, under the current rules, in other words without the changes in Bill , the expected increase in plan costs could vary from 35% to 70% by 2015, according to our estimates. It would be wise to seriously consider the terms of the enhanced funding schemes being studied by your committee.
First, because it is a cyclical enhancement, we believe that it should not be funded by the Insurance Fund, but rather by the government's general revenue. That was the case for the enhancements announced in the last federal budget, and the same rule should apply to these changes.
Second, social responsibility also involves fiscal responsibility. This is not an economic context where taxpayers can dig into their own pockets any deeper to fund new public expenditures. The government should therefore ensure that any amendments have a neutral effect on the cost borne by the public purse. In other words, employers say yes to improvements to the employment insurance plan on condition that these improvements are accompanied by savings or cost reductions elsewhere in the plan.
Third, and still on the issue of funding, the Quebec Employers Council reiterates that it is important for the government to restore fairness through a 50/50 employer-worker split to fund the costs of the plan.
This brings me to a final remark. The QEC is concerned about the government taking a piecemeal approach to changes to the employment insurance plan. As I mentioned in my introduction, Bill calls for changes in addition to those already announced in the most recent budget, changes amounting to close to $4 billion. We are not against changing the plan. However, we believe that, in the future, every effort should be made to avoid making piecemeal changes and instead should make changes that take into account the concerns of all partners, and specifically those that I have just raised.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you for coming. This is the last meeting we're going to have hearing witnesses on Bill . It has been an interesting set of hearings that we've had. Normally when a bill comes forward you have people who come and say they support it, it makes sense, it's what's needed. You have others who come and say they don't support it and that it doesn't make sense. What we have on this bill is really two schools of thought: one, those who say it's a bad bill and it can't be supported; and others who say they don't like it, it doesn't do enough, but we'll take it and then move on to try to get other reforms. I don't think we've heard anybody, except perhaps the minister, suggest that this is the ideal solution to what EI needs right now. We have a bill here that is discriminatory, that is inadequate, that doesn't cover enough people, and that doesn't go back enough months to deal with the circumstances we have.
Armine Yalnizyan was here earlier this week. I was looking at her testimony to the Senate committee. The Senate did a pre-hearing on this bill. When she appeared before the Senate she put it as well as I've heard it so far. She said these are unprecedented economic times and it is an economic tsunami; therefore, it is incumbent on the government to address everyone who has been swept by this wave of economic dislocation, not only those who have been cherry-picked to be the most deserving of help.
Those others who have not been long tenured and who have not used EI for the period specified also had no control over whether they would have a job. Those in the fishing industry, forestry, tourism, hospitality, agriculture, and large parts of the construction industry, through no fault of their own, have periods of unemployment when they need to go on the EI system. Nobody who I have seen in the last six months while EI has dominated the national political landscape has suggested that this is the best solution for what we need. We've heard all kinds of other things, but we haven't heard this. Yet we're in a position now where this is the solution before us. As I've said before, I don't think it's realistic to say, “You take what you can get and move on,” because I don't think there is anything else.
At a suggested cost of $935 million, this is almost the cost of what it would be to have a 360-hour national standard, which the Parliamentary Budget Officer pegged at less than $1.2 billion, as an example.
So we're in a difficult position. This bill doesn't seem to make it. The chair said we sometimes have statements. I only have questions, but sometimes they're long. I want to ask you the question because a lot of people really aren't sure about the numbers either. We hear $935 million we hear $190,000. I'm not suggesting you should have the resources, but have any of you actually been able to look at those numbers and see if they make sense? We have to vote on this bill very soon.
I open that to anybody, if anybody has had a chance to do that.
That is exactly right. One of our major concerns is the competitiveness of businesses that operate in Canada, and of course in Quebec, where we do business. Payroll taxes, in whatever form, or when related to various programs, undermine business competitiveness. I believe that, in Quebec, the majority of employers agree that there should be programs that provide for a safety net, and they are not opposed to making reasonable contributions. However, the bill cannot keep going up.
Our greatest concern, which I raised in our statement, is the possibility that the increase may reach 70% by 2015, in light of restrictions on the contributions from wages. As for employment insurance, we have noted that, in recent years, during times of economic growth, there is a decrease in the amount of benefits paid out. The main problem is that, given the current situation, the government is proposing a draconian increase to the benefits and a radical cut to the income—obviously, fewer salaries mean less revenue. It is also proposing an increase to certain components of the employment insurance program that are not benefits, which could easily lead to exorbitant increases.
This is why we are intervening, not just for the sake of saying “not in my back yard but in someone else's”. When we consider the entire structure of employment insurance, we must make sure that ultimately, the effects are neutral. The government cannot overtax payroll any more. In fact, payroll taxes not only represent a cost to employers, they also represent salaries not paid to employees. All other things being equal, the entire payroll is also the employers' salary costs. The higher the payroll taxes, the lower the amount paid to employees in wages.
I thank our witnesses for being here and sharing with us their opinions on this important Conservative bill, which, according to Mr. Layton, was demanded by the NDP.
We are even happier to hear you say that we should be trying to find out what it is in this bill that will make it of value. I am referring to the parameters which we feel are essential and that tie into the principles that you are championing yourselves. For example, the Employers Council of Quebec believes that this plan must go back to its original mission, which is to provide income to people who lose their jobs.
On that topic, here are my comments to you, Mr. Dorval. I am not the one making your strategic choices, but when you talk about how money should be used, I feel that you are not aiming at the right target. Currently, according to data used by the Department of Human Resources, 64% of unemployed people have no access to the plan. This does not address your concern, of course. But were those people excluded because there was not enough money in the fund? No, $57 billion were used for other purposes, with only employers and employees contributing to the fund.
It seems as though you have given up the fight, and the will to see the order of things restored. If what you are saying is truly to be believed, I think that you should ask that the employees of the people you represent get access to employment insurance and that your money be used for that purpose. I would like to hear your comments on that.
Thank you for your question. As I said, the most important thing is not only that employers and employees pay. I also want to repeat that employers pay 40% more than employees. I completely agree with you; in the past, money was grabbed in a way that seemed to us to be inappropriate and unfair.
Employment insurance, as its name indicates, is an insurance program. In certain circumstances, benefits are paid out as a result of a program or a regulation. It is up to the government to determine the insurance program's terms and conditions. These terms and conditions must depend on various factors. Any insurance program must take a number of components into account. We have no objection to the employment insurance program being reformed. We agree that it should be simplified and be less complex, but there is one condition. It must financially neutral, which is to say that it must not make money from the contributions. That answers the first part of your question.
The second issue is the following. This is a temporary program intended to deal with a temporary situation, and the funding should come from general revenue and not from the program itself. In other words, there was a money grab in one particular situation, and we now find ourselves in another particular situation. So there should be a contribution from general revenue, which benefited from that grab. We agree with you in that regard.
Finally, various terms and conditions have been defined in the past, and for various reasons. We cannot take one single factor into account, the number of hours worked on one coast or the other, for example, without considering all the effects—we spoke about that during earlier conversations—in particular ensuring that we do not set up any disincentives to get back to work.
Thank you for your question.
Ultimately, there is only one tax payer. Unfortunately, in discussions with parliamentarians or government representatives, certain clients, certain groups, and so on, receive more attention. However, we like to keep a global perspective because, ultimately, someone is going to pay. The more our deficit grows, the more difficult it will be to grow the economy again.
We fought against the removal of the $57 billion. Today, it is not realistic to think that $57 billion dollars will magically appear in general revenues and fix the problems of the past. We are in a recession. If the government and Parliament, by way of legislation, are convinced that they must make investments, these should not be paid for by increased taxes on employers' payrolls.
Like the other provinces, Quebec is affected by the economic crisis, but in a different way. In this province, employers, unions and social groups sit down at the same table. The group is called the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail. We have developed a tight program. When a business in Quebec has to slow down its operations because of the recession, and, as a consequence, is forced to lay off employees, this program, which is mainly funded by employers under the 1% legislation in Quebec, provides financial support to train the employees and to save their jobs. This way, fewer people become unemployed. In addition, they receive training, so when the economy picks up again, both the employee and the employer are well equipped to respond. The program is a partnership between Quebec's unions and employers.
It's too bad Mr. Savage isn't here, because he's going to accuse me of having spoken in his absence with respect to some remarks he made. But I will, and he'll get it from the record here later.
He made some comments earlier, and he did at a point previously in the House today, and I think we need to get this out on the record. So through you, Mr. Chair, he was speaking about the 360. Just to get it on the record here, the cost for this bill is $1 billion over three years. We need to also point out the fact that with respect to the 360, he got the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost it, and that was in terms of special benefits and part-time workers being excluded. Yet his platform, the Liberal platform, released yesterday, actually said that special benefits and part-time workers should have a 360-hour standard as well. So the cost of that proposal really is about $4 billion.
Mr. Savage is...misleading, I guess, to say it nicely or diplomatically, by saying something different in a different context.
But having got that on the record, and having corrected things in respect of that, I want to ask Mr. Schumann, off the top here, in terms of a clarification.... You spoke of certain workers who worked 10 to 15 years, but now they're not eligible with respect to this. There's something I wasn't catching there. I'm not sure if you meant 10 to 15 years but with periods of interruption along the way. Is that what you...?
Although it is a bit late to do this, I would also like to welcome you. You almost did not get invited. I want to thank you for agreeing to come here and testify today on such short notice. I also want to thank my colleague, Mr. Lessard, who took the initiative to ask that the work be delayed by one day, which is not very much.
I support what my colleague, Mr. Savage, said about the comments that we have heard from the witnesses since we began this study. Everyone says that this bill is better than nothing. Some tell us that they can accept it, but perhaps that is only because they have no alternatives in front of them. Like many others, I find it difficult to accept that the Canadian government is offering so little to the Canadian people, and specifically to people who are unemployed.
I have here a table from Statistics Canada that shows that, for Quebec, from January to July 2009, 70.8% of employment insurance applications were accepted. This means that 29% of Quebec applicants did not receive benefits. Even worse, in the Atlantic provinces, the highest rate was 69.4% and the lowest was 59%. Put another way, almost one half of all those who applied for employment insurance in Prince Edward Island could not get benefits. As I said, these figures come from Statistics Canada.
A few days ago, I asked a question about women and the fact that they are hit very hard by this situation. They confirmed that this was the case, because of the temporary or part-time jobs that they have, but they also told me that young people were hit much harder. Now Mr. Blakely says that, in the programs he manages, he can see that young people are indeed hit very hard.
I know that you went into this issue at length, but it is extremely important. Could you, or some of the other people who were invited to testify today, suggest concrete ways of amending this bill? Young people who are not truly unemployed have grabbed the lifebelt that they thought they were getting from the government, but the lifebelt is dragging them down into the water instead of bringing them back to the surface.
Thank you, guests, for coming today and providing your testimony. It's definitely appreciated.
It's important to note, and I mentioned this at our last meeting, that this is an amendment to an act. We've heard others from the Liberal Party and the Bloc talk about reform, and it's certainly an amendment to an act. The amendment will help 190,000 unemployed workers. That's a lot of Canadians who need help and who have paid into employment insurance for many years, and hopefully this will help them.
They've talked much about who they'd like to help and what they'd like to help, but their voting actions indicate they want to help nobody. They voted against this act. They had a choice to help 190,000 and they chose to help zero, and that's really unfortunate.
I wonder if you could give me a comment, Mr. Blakely, or if you could provide some insight about some recent changes to the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board. There are really two thoughts here. One is a system set up that generates excesses that go to Liberal slush funds or one that balances its books. I prefer the latter. I wonder which one you prefer.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you, guests, for being here today.
I have a dozen questions that I would like to ask you, but I have very little time. I have heard what you said and I have heard a number of other witnesses before you. The problem with this bill is not only that it is not perfect, but that it is fundamentally unfair. It is discriminatory because it creates two categories of unemployed people. This breaks down the solidarity among the unemployed, at times, even within the same company. This week, we heard from witnesses who told us that. In the same company, you can have workers who will be eligible and others who will not. That is where the problem lies.
We also talk about a scarcity of resources. Many witnesses have told us to accept this bill and hope to get something else later on, such as eligibility once you have worked 360 hours, the extension of weeks per year, and so on. We have doubts about that, first of all because there is very little money, and secondly, we doubt that anything else will happen. We would like to have seen a much more comprehensive and complete reform. This reform is unfair, because more than 50% of workers will not be eligible.
Mr. Blakely, you said a little earlier that you were hoping to amend this bill so that trade apprentices would be eligible. We would also like to amend it to include all seasonal workers and workers in unstable job situations.
Would you vote in favour of Bill if it were not amended to include your requirements?
In all honesty, I would not be able to tell you which measure is best. We have not had an opportunity to study it and obtain all the information. This is one more piece that is added to another piece, with no thought for the overall picture. It is difficult for us to look at the relevance of a piece like that without having an opportunity to look at the overall picture, always bearing in mind people's ability to pay.
We cannot comment on the relevance of this measure in particular because it is, essentially, one measure on top of another. In essence, this is about adding $4 billion. We must make a distinction between social measures taken in a difficult situation and an insurance program which must comply with conditions. If we do not like these conditions, let us change them. But it becomes extremely difficult when you pay your premiums and see that the criteria have suddenly changed.
Since we are going through a temporary situation, this must also be a temporary measure. We are all hoping that the recovery will occur as quickly as possible, but that will require private investment. We have heard about infrastructure, and that might help, but at some point, we need to take measures to stimulate private investment.
Going back to your question more specifically, we say that the money must come from general revenue. We are prepared to examine the program in general terms to see how we could improve it, given the new economy and the situation. But not during a period of crisis, because a crisis is a poor advisor.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all very much for being here today.
I have three questions: one is on equity and two are on structural reform.
On the first one, on equity, I'm from British Columbia and it seems to me there are great interprovincial differences in terms of eligibility requirements, so I would ask, do you not think--I think Mr. Schumann mentioned that one size doesn't fit all--it would be reasonable and fair to ensure that there was going to be one standard for every worker across the country?
On my second question, I think all of us are very concerned about the deficit in skilled trades in Canada. I was curious if you had done a human resources assessment of what those projected deficits would be in the various skills trades. If you could at some time give that to the committee, I'm sure that would be of great interest to us.
Lastly, you mentioned a fundamental concept, Mr. Blakely, which is making sure that EI becomes a self-funding situation, more like a true insurance program. Do you have a structure and plan on how to make that happen?
Thanks very much.
Let me answer all three of your questions.
The current system, which contains, I believe, 50-some zones and 50-some different qualifications, where someone living almost across the street has a different qualifying period, makes no sense to me. It needs to be fixed.
On the second issue--can we talk about the skilled trade deficit?--we do LMI studies through the construction sector council on an annual basis. I can get you some of that material, and I will undertake to do so and get it to the committee in reasonable time.
Thirdly, how would I make EI better through the funding arrangement? I think the short answer to that is, EI needs to be self-funding, and if it builds a surplus, a reasonable surplus needs to be maintained in order to look out for those rainy days. I would say that succeeding governments of Canada used EI for their discretionary funding and we're now paying the price for that.
Are you referring to vocational retraining?
Yes, I would say that if there is one measure that all the players in Quebec would agree on wholeheartedly—I mentioned this a little earlier when I spoke about the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail—it is this one. This is a priority in Quebec.
In fact, the more effort we put into ensuring that workers are trained or retrained, the more likely we are to see a drop in unemployment, especially when we are dealing with the next challenge. Historically, the crisis we are currently going through is extremely brief. Nevertheless, particularly in Quebec where we will soon be facing a sizable demographic deficit, it is extremely important to find ways to ensure that our workers are better trained or retrained.
Also, when we go through a period of economic slowdown, we have to work more to maintain people's jobs, so that the employers do not lose them and that they will be ready when the recovery occurs. This is essential for us. This is a unanimous opinion, and not only among employers. This is also the feeling in a community and in Quebec society. We have had structural unemployment problems and we want to deal with them. This is extremely important to us, this is our priority.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think that this is something important. Mr. Dorval, your experience with the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail is very revealing. In my opinion, we can learn a lot from it.
I would like to know your opinion on training. Mr. Blakely also raised this point. We cannot train everybody. I will give you two examples, which probably involve your members. Let us take the example of Whirlpool, in Rivière-du-Loup, the former Bélanger plant that shut its doors four years ago. Three hundred and fifty people worked there. More than 20% of the workforce was over 55 years of age. They had worked there for 35, 40 or 45 years. They had been trained, but there were no longer any jobs for them.
It is the same for the shoe plant in Charlesbourg, which shut down three years ago. The workforce was almost exclusively women. All the women over 55 years of age, who had always worked in the shoe industry, no longer have any job opportunities. A lot of women received training, but there are no more jobs.
One thing requires some analysis and an answer. Are these people supposed to wait until they are 65 without any income, or, as part of your joint reflection process, have you come up with any ways to compensate for the government's lack of initiative?
I will let my colleague speak more specifically about the program for older workers.
What we are trying to do together, with our Quebec partners, is to arrive at a better analysis of labour requirements. We also want to determine how to create a balance between labour demand and supply. Obviously, this requires cooperation.
Since we are talking about training, I would add that I heard one of your colleagues talk about the Red Seal Program earlier. I would remind you that in Quebec, we have a small problem with Red Seal. Approximately 70 trades requiring rigorous professional accreditation cannot be part of the Red Seal Program because this type of trade is not recognized professionally elsewhere. We would like the Red Seal Program to recognize those people because money is also tied up with this.
I will now go back more specifically to your question. Some people will not be able to find another job because they do not have certain aptitudes, skills or abilities. We have programs to deal with these situations. You know that, because of the demographic deficit in Quebec, we are now asking for changes to the pension plan, to the Régie des rentes du Québec, so that we can find incentives for people to work even though they are older. But, if it were me, I would not resolve the whole issue of age immediately. There will be many job opportunities for older workers in the future because there will not be enough manpower to do the available work.
Going back to your question, I would say that there certainly are situations that we will not be able to resolve. We therefore have to create social programs to support those people who do not have the ability or skills required or the opportunities to find a job.