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NDP asks Liberals to drop appeal of tribunal ruling in EI maternity leave case


By Jordan Press

OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats are asking the country’s employment minister to drop the government’s appeal of a decision that found employment insurance rules discriminatory against new mothers.

In his letter to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, NDP critic Daniel Blaikie says an appeal of the tribunal ruling would only prolong access to justice for new parents who lose their jobs.

Instead of challenging the ruling from a federal tribunal, he is asking Qualtrough to introduce the necessary legislation to amend the social safety net program.

In January, the Social Security Tribunal ruled that sections of the Employment Insurance Act violated women’s constitutional rights to equality under the law, saying the government hadn’t shown that charter violations were “justified in a fair and democratic society.”

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The tribunal did so in a case brought by six women who lost their jobs while on, or just after, parental leave and had their EI claims rejected because they hadn’t worked the minimum number of hours needed to qualify for benefits.

The EI commission appealed the decision earlier this month because it believed there were “errors in law that justify” that course of action, the responsible department, Employment and Social Development Canada, said in a statement.

A group supporting the women’s case, Mouvement Action-Chomage de Montreal, decried the move in an online statement that called on the government to change the EI law to address systemic issues.

The tribunal’s ruling noted that it was up to the government to resolve the situation, and Blaikie is offering his party’s support to pass by summer any bill the Liberals introduce.

What Blaikie would like to see is a bill introduced soon that could be passed by June, instead of waiting until the fall when the Liberals are scheduled to unveil a broad overhaul of the decades-old EI system.

He suggested there could be an easy fix by copying an existing provision in the EI system that ensures anyone on sickness benefits doesn’t have that count against their access to regular benefits if they lose a job.

A similar provision allows new mothers to access extra weeks of sickness benefits on top of a year’s worth of parental leave.

“It’s a pretty simple fix to say women deserve to have insurance against job loss for economic reasons, and they shouldn’t lose that insurance because they bear children,” Blaikie said.

“The way the system is set up right now is that’s effectively what it does,” he added, noting men don’t face the same barriers.

Qualtrough has previously said he wants to make it easier for mothers using the EI system, particularly eyeing rules that make it difficult for some to get their full parental leave.

Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Qualtrough’s department in an email said the decision to appeal the case doesn’t change the commitment to modernize the EI system, noting that consultations are running through the spring.

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