Monday, May 14

New moms need better benefits

Mother’s Day, we celebrate our moms and their valuable contribution to our lives and our communities. Yet, despite the important role mothers play in our society, some of the federal government’s policies leave us wondering if mothers – and indeed, children – really matter to the nation’s decision makers.

Women’s Network PEI, assisted by an Advisory Committee of women from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, has recently completed extensive research on the topic of maternity and parental benefits.

Our findings show clear inequities in the maternity and parental benefits currently available under the Employment Insurance Act (EI).

In Atlantic Canada, women’s paid work is often part-time and in lower-paid occupations, or full-time seasonal, and insecure. These non-standard work arrangements mean that many women do not meet the EI criteria to qualify for maternity and parental benefits.

The Women’s Network PEI Atlantic Advisory Committee recommends improvements to the current EI system so that it takes into account the unique position that women have in the paid workforce.

To improve access to benefits for women who have had interruptions in their paid work and allow them to accumulate the required hours, a longer "reach-back" provision (similar to what is allowed in the Self-Employment Benefit Program) is necessary.

The wage replacement level, currently at 55 per cent, is too low and must increase so that mothers can maintain a basic standard of living after having children.

Self-employed women are not eligible for maternity benefits and this must change.

And it is not just Women’s Network PEI that believes Canada’s maternity and parental leave ought to be improved.

The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Child Care Spaces Initiative set up by the federal government recommended in a recent report that maternity and parental leave be extended from 52 weeks to 18 months – and eventually to 2½ years – in order to address the limited spaces available for infant child care. We are pleased that the federal committee recommended enhancements to the current maternity and parental benefit program.

However, the report does not address the issue that many mothers are not eligible for benefits in the first place, because they are either employed in non-standard work or self-employed.
Norway, Germany and France have the best policies and programs for mothers. Their inclusive and comprehensive maternity and parental benefits programs should serve as an example of international best practices for Canadian policy makers.

These European countries know that maternity and parental benefits are critical for the effective caregiving of children, the economic security of families and the well-being of society. With many new mothers not able to access benefits today in Canada, more must be done.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on the changes that are necessary to improve maternity and parental benefits and to demand that the federal government makes those changes. It’s one sure way of telling mothers that they do matter.

For more information about the Improving Maternity and Parental Benefits for Canadians project, please visit our web site: The general public is invited to attend our If Mothers Mattered events on Saturday, May 19 from 2-4 p.m. at the Keshen Goodman Library, 330 Lacewood Drive, and Tuesday, May 22 from 7-9 p.m. at the Rockingham Community Centre, 199 Bedford Highway with more events to be held in June. At the events, there will be a screening of the new documentary, The Motherhood Manifesto, followed by a report back on the National Association of Women in the Law 2007 conference entitled Mothering the Law: Defending Women’s Rights and a presentation by the new organization Equal Voice.
Tamara Lorincz is a representative on the Atlantic Advisory Committee for Maternity and Parental Benefits, and Michelle Harris-Genge is co-executive director of the Women’s Network PEI.

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