The National Trade Contractors Coalition of Canada (NTCCC) is throwing its support behind two equity issues regarding expectant mothers and apprentices.
During its fall strategy session held in Ottawa Aug. 17, the NTCCC added two new priorities to support in the coming year — Bill C-243 which, if passed, will legislate the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy, and access to employment insurance for apprentices during periods between jobs when training takes place.
Bill C-243 is a private members bill brought forward by Mark Gerretsen, MP for Kingston and the Islands. In addition to creating a maternity assistance program, it also proposes to make amendments to the Employment Insurance (EI) Act with respect to maternity benefits and aims to ensure more flexibility for expectant mothers whose medical needs would take them away from the workplace, without extending the term of available benefits.
"Fundamentally, anything that's going to attract more women to the trades or, in this case, remove an obstacle to women participating in the trades, is a positive for the industry," said John Galt, chairman of NTCCC.
"There's almost no one in the industry that wouldn't like to see more participation by women in the trades and if this is a barrier to that, we would like to remove it, extend it earlier, at no cost to anyone really, it's just a flexible allowance. The maternity leave is still the same period of time legislated for everyone in the country. So it's a win-win."
Currently, maternity leave for women in the trades works like it does for any other woman across the country. However, some trades can be more physical than other jobs and sometimes involve heights or heavy lifting, Galt pointed out.
"There are medical needs that a woman could encounter that would legitimately require her to perhaps not perform her role as a journeyperson in the timeframe that exists today. So, in other words, the doctor could advise her that she's better not to do anything to exert herself from an earlier period," he explained. "What we're saying is she should be given that opportunity — if there is a medical need — to go on EI early. So it's really extending the time to begin, or potentially begin early. It may not apply in every case."
It would also benefit the industry overall, he added.
"The physical aspect of construction, we could say, is a barrier by nature, but when there is a medical need from an expectant mother, that heightens it," said Galt. "By removing that, we get a more diverse workforce and we are able to draw a greater number of Canadians to enter the trades and create flexibility for those who are in it." Sandra Skivsky, director of marketing and business development for the Canadian Masonry Contractors Association, said member organizations have been encouraging initiatives to attract more women to the skilled trades for years. She added it's important the industry accommodate women, or it risks losing them.
"It doesn't look like there is a cost to this and it's not more weeks, it's just the timing of those weeks and if that's a step to keeping women in the industry, it's important for us to support it," said Skivsky. "It allows them to leave work earlier for their health and that of their baby. It doesn't seem to be a very complicated idea. If a woman needs to not be in a certain situation at some point in her pregnancy, she's eligible to take those weeks earlier as opposed to after the baby is born. What's the alternative —that they leave and they don't go back to work or look for other employment?"
When it comes to EI and apprentices, the NTCCC stated all levels of government need to expedite the process when it comes to workers accessing EI during in-school apprenticeship training.
Galt explained during the four to five years apprentices serve, they are "earning while learning." However, when they go to trades school for six to eight weeks they are eligible for EI, which requires them to submit various documents to the government and EI payments commence thereafter. As president of the Canadian Automatic Sprinkler Association, Galt noted the average age for an apprentice in this particular area is 27 years old.
"At 27, an individual — man or woman — has, generally speaking, more financial obligations than they would have at 17, 18 or 19," he said. "Many think of apprentices as young people, but for a great many they've got financial obligations...and the promptness of EI kicking in is very, very important."
In response to these concerns, the NTCCC is encouraging the federal and provincial governments to make it easier for apprentices to get their designations, as some are deterred by the process.
"There are some that decide they can't afford this and so the dropout rate can be affected," said Galt. "What we want to do, obviously, is encourage completion rates to be at their highest and this contributes greatly to that. It also creates a situation for employers and employees where they're simply getting what's coming to them, but in a more timely manner."
Addressing payment delays in Canada's construction sector also remains a key focus of the NTCCC. The fall planning session concluded with a meeting between NTCCC and representatives from Public Services and Procurement Canada, a release notes.
"We were able to articulate the difference for trade contractors specifically and that was dealing with prompt payments," Galt said. "There were many, many points that weren't fully realized when the government pays for services, the flow down to the trades and the subtrades and how that can affect things like pricing. It's also the importance of the prompt payment process and the trickle down and how it affects benefits, pensions and things of that sort in the long-term sense."