A new report is urging the federal government to introduce new types of leave and make broad changes to employment insurance.
The report, by the YWCA Canada and the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, is advocating for an equity-informed economic recovery plan that will ensure gender and sexual minorities, immigrants and refugees and Black, Indigenous and other racialized people thrive after the pandemic.
“A paradigm shift is afoot,” wrote Sarah Kaplan, the director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy, and Maya Roy, chief executive officer of the YWCA Canada, in the report’s foreword. “A broader range of people across Canada are now seeing the importance of feminized and racialized labour for our health and well-being — where women, especially women of colour and recent immigrants, are leading the response to a major health crisis and preventing further economic and social fallout.
“However, there was much that was not working before COVID-19. It took a pandemic for the country to see what was already broken. We cannot ignore the historical context that has created the unstable foundation for the harms we are seeing play out in this current crisis.”
The pandemic is highlighting the connections between gender, race, class and other identity markers, said the report, with women disproportionately affected by layoffs because of their concentration in low-paid jobs in the retail and service industries, as well as in part-time or temporary work. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian women between ages 25 and 54 have experienced a decline in their employment at twice the rate of men in that age group and they’re returning to employment more slowly.
As well, noted the report, Black, racialized and immigrant women are disproportionately represented in low-paid essential occupations such as personal support workers and cleaners, which don’t provide paid sick or family leave.
The report called on the federal government to legislate at least 14 paid sick days and paid family leave for all workers, arguing that doing so would allow people — particularly those working front-line jobs — to protect their health and the health of others without needing to worry about their financial obligations.
Legislative changes to paid sick leave may be in the works. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in late May, as part of negotiations with the New Democratic Party, to work with the provinces to create 10 days of paid sick leave for all Canadians.
The report also called for legislated job protection for Canadians with disabilities who can’t fulfill their work obligations because of their risk for contracting the coronavirus or due to systemic barriers such as a lack of access to accessible transportation.
It also recommended using the EI system to paying for retraining and professional development across sectors for people who’ve lost a job, as well as creating “other pathways” to financially support re-training opportunities for people who aren’t eligible for EI.
Given the amount of people ineligible for EI (which also has a gendered component, with only 32 per cent of unemployed women eligible compared to 40 per cent of unemployed men, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives analysis), the report also suggested that the hours requirement for eligibility be lowered to 360 hours and be uniform across the country. It also advocated for increasing the benefit rate from the current 55 per cent to 85 per cent for Canadians in low-income jobs.