Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Canada’s economy is growing and that means this year’s federal budget can invest in ways that will have a positive impact on workers’ day-to-day lives. Here are some of the things we’ll be looking for in the federal budget.   

1. A commitment to universal public pharmacare

Canada is the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t include a universal prescription drug plan. Our patchwork prescription drug system is inefficient and expensive, and has left 3.5 million Canadians unable to afford the medication they need. Budget 2018 must commit to a timeline to work with the provinces and territories to design and implement a universal, comprehensive, national public prescription drug program that covers all Canadians, regardless of their age, income, or where they work or live.

2. Long overdue action on pay equity

Canada’s gender wage gap is the sixth highest in the OECD. This wage discrimination exists regardless of women’s education or whether they work full or part-time. Lower lifetime earnings means less retirement security and more poverty for older women. Canada’s unions have long advocated for proactive, stand-alone pay equity legislation and are hopeful that it will finally be tabled later this year. In anticipation of that, Budget 2018 must fund the establishment of an independent Pay Equity Commission and Hearings Tribunal, and commit funding to support workers’ and advocacy groups’ access to advice, information, training, and participation in the pay equity process.

3. Education and action on gender-based harassment and violence

The #metoo movement has demonstrated that gender-based harassment and violence is a widespread and very serious issue that requires strong leadership from the federal government. That’s why Canada’s unions want Budget 2018 to commit to a national public education campaign on gender-based harassment and violence. Gender-based violence costs the Canadian economy $12 billion annually, but the women’s organizations providing frontline support and services to survivors of gender-based violence have no stable core operational funding. Budget 2018 must restore the Status of Women Canada’s mandate to provide core funding to women’s organizations for research, advocacy and services, and increase its funding by $100 million annually so it can do that. 

4. Long-term investment for child care

Canada is facing a child care crisis. The OECD says child care costs in Canada are among the highest in the world. Canadian families are spending almost one-quarter of their income on child care. Single parents spend an average of 32 percent their income on child care. For women, access to affordable, high quality child care is about economic justice. Budget 2017 announced some long-term funding for early learning and child care, but not enough to solve the crisis. Budget 2018 must allocate $1 billion for child care in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and increase that amount each year until public spending on child care reaches at least one percent of GDP, the international benchmark used by the OECD, UNICEF and other international bodies.

5. Reforms to Employment Insurance

Successive federal governments have made the Employment Insurance program less equitable and harder to access, at the same time as our labour market has undergone major changes. Right now, too many vulnerable workers are left behind because of gaps in the system that is supposed to support them. Budget 2018 must reform the EI appeals process by restoring the Board of Referees and bringing labour back into the adjudication of claimants' appeals. It must also establish a single national eligibility standard for EI regular benefits with a 360-hour threshold, and raise the replacement rate for insured earnings to 60 percent. Canada’s unions are also calling on the government to reform the claw-back of EI sickness benefits by allowing workers to top up their income by working during their benefit claim, and by expanding the number of weeks for sickness benefits to deal with episodic or long-term illnesses.

6. Fairness for federally-regulated workers

Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to commit to fairness for workers in federally-regulated workplaces. First, Budget 2018 should commit to a federal minimum wage. This would have an immediate, significant and positive impact for workers at Canadian airports and those performing outsourced maintenance work in federal buildings and offices. Second, Budget 2018 must reinstate the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act for federal government procurement and construction contracts. Third, the budget must commit to ending contract flipping in federal workplaces like airports. Employers must not be allowed use contract flipping to undermine job security, wages and benefits. Fourth, the government must reform Part 3 of the Canada Labour Code to provide paid leave for personal reasons; prevent misclassification of workers as independent contractors; prevent discrimination in pay and benefits based on employment status (part-time, temporary and contract workers); and make employers responsible for labour standards violations in their supply chains.

7. Training and skills-building for workers

Canada’s unions will be looking for commitments on training and skills-building for workers in Budget 2018. For example, we have proposed that the government support the right to lifelong learning with guaranteed paid training leaves so that workers can upgrade skills. We have also urged the government to create more training opportunities for skilled trades jobs by investing in pre-apprenticeship training and mandating apprenticeship training for federally funded infrastructure projects, procurement contracts (for example in defence and shipbuilding), and building maintenance. Budget 2018 must also invest in workers by restoring funding for literacy programs and core funding for literacy organizations, and investing in a new national workplace literacy program.

8. Tax fairness

Canada’s unions want all Canadians to pay their fair share and are calling on the federal government to act for tax fairness by closing costly tax loopholes (like the stock option deduction and capital gains deduction), cracking down on Canadians’ foreign tax haven use, including by pension funds and Crown corporations, and ending the unfair advantage enjoyed by Google, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and other foreign companies who sell services in Canada but are exempt from Canadian sales and corporate income taxes.

9.Investments in a green economy

The federal government must implement a bold green economic program of targeted investments over the next five years for renewable energy development and infrastructure, including job creation and greenhouse gas reduction targets, in order to boost electricity generated from solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources.

10. Just Transition training and adjustment funds for workers

Canada’s unions are calling for the establishment of Just Transition training and adjustment funds for workers affected by climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy, automation, the digitisation of work, and job losses caused by trade agreements like CETA.

11. Improvements to the disability tax credit

Budget 2018 must increase the federal disability tax credit for people with disabilities and make it refundable, clarify eligibility, and simplify the application process. This would be a first step toward addressing poverty for people with disabilities. A refundable disability tax credit would provide a modest annual amount of money to many people living with significant disabilities, particularly those who are not able to participate in the workforce. This is a long time demand of the disability rights community and a necessary step toward greater inclusion and fairness for people with disabilities.