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Manitoba to hike parental leaves from 37 to 63 weeks

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen

The province has introduced legislation to extend parental leave provisions and establish leave for individuals to care for a critically-ill adult family member.

The bill stretches parental leave to incorporate federal changes to employment insurance from 37 to 63 weeks. The financial benefits would not increase, but would be spread more thinly over the longer period.

“We are pleased to introduce measures to provide additional flexibility for parents to care for their children, and make it easier for families to care for loved ones who are critically ill,” Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen told the legislature while introducing Bill 20 on Tuesday.

The person taking maternity and/or parental leave will be guaranteed having her or his job waiting at the end of that extended period, under the legislation that could pass as early as June 4.

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The province has introduced legislation to extend parental leave provisions and establish leave for individuals to care for a critically-ill adult family member.

The bill stretches parental leave to incorporate federal changes to employment insurance from 37 to 63 weeks. The financial benefits would not increase, but would be spread more thinly over the longer period.

"We are pleased to introduce measures to provide additional flexibility for parents to care for their children, and make it easier for families to care for loved ones who are critically ill," Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen told the legislature while introducing Bill 20 on Tuesday.

The person taking maternity and/or parental leave will be guaranteed having her or his job waiting at the end of that extended period, under the legislation that could pass as early as June 4.

Currently, the federal government’s maximum Employment Insurance maternity benefits are $547 per week over 12 months, calculated on 55 per cent of weekly insurable earnings and based on maximum annual earnings of $51,700.

But, if a parent extends the leave to the 63 weeks, the maximum weekly benefit rate is 33 per cent of weekly insurable earnings, with a maximum of $328 per week.

The federal law previously covered only federally-governed workers, explained a government official.

"We have to pass legislative amendments to afford the same flexibility to Manitoba workers," said the official.

Bill 20 also allows up to 17 weeks of leave to care for a critically-ill family member. Existing legislation only granted leave to a parent to care for a critically-ill child. "It broadens the definition," said the official.

NDP leader Wab Kinew told reporters he's happy with the changes to parental leave, but pointed out that the Conservatives could have supported the NDP's private member's bill back in the fall and achieved the same results months earlier.

However, Kinew said New Democrats would oppose Bill 20 because Pedersen created a mini-omnibus bill that includes provisions about workers' rights and child labour with which he has concerns.

"Give us a clean bill on parental rights and we'll support it," Kinew said. "They've buried some provisions that would hurt Manitoba families."

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said both the increased parental leave and critical care benefits were agreed to by the province's Labour Management Review Committee, of which he is a member.

"We're glad they're moving on parental leave and critical care leave," Rebeck said. "Business and labour agreed right from the beginning that should happen. I'm glad these two are moving forward. But we have big concerns on other changes."

Rebeck said the committee recommended that the provincial government raise the minimum age for employment from 12 to 14, but the province instead is raising it to 13.

Rebeck said he is also upset the legislation takes away due process by allowing the director of employment standards to refuse to accept certain complaints.

The province's news release says the director can refuse "frivolous or vexatious complaints" and the legislation says unionized employees will no longer be able to file a complaint with the director because their "collective agreements included grievance processes for handling disputes between employers and employees about wages or other terms of employment".

"It is really disappointing this government would ask business and labour for advice, we meet, we give good advice, and then they come out with something different," he said. "It really begs the question, if you ask for advice and listen, why bother?"

Prof. Julie Guard, coordinator of the University of Manitoba's labour studies program, said forcing families to stretch benefits out over more time makes it more difficult for them to take advantage of the extra weeks of leave.

"It is a supplement," Guard said on Tuesday.

"If you have two working spouses, you won't lose the entire other salary... but it's already too little money. Most people won't survive on that —- most people are surviving on their next pay cheque," she said.

But Guard said that because it wasn't so long ago that no one was allowed to take time off for a new baby unless they quit their job or took a leave of absence; at least the province is putting the weeks allowed into law.

"Maybe this is a really good first step, but (the benefits) need to increase. It needs to be high enough to survive on," Guard said.

The province said that the coming-into-force date for changes to protected leaves occurs when Bill 20 receives royal assent, while the remaining proposed changes would take effect when cabinet proclaims the law.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 6:08 PM CDT: Final write through

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