Parental benefits need boost

Town hall event discusses shortfalls of Canadian system

Published on June 12, 2014
Joan Frampton a civil engineer and mother of a one-year-old boy, speaks at a public meeting on parental benefits and challenges with the current Employment Insurance system at Cowan Heights United Church Thursday night.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Allison Doyle never thought she would be the sort to have children. But meeting the right person changed her outlook. Doyle says her decision to have a child is the most rewarding one she’s ever made.

“It’s a passion that I never thought I would have or could have. I just wasn’t the mother type ... and then I met my husband. There’s a big love story there.”

However, Doyle also loves her career. Having obtained a recreation degree at Memorial University, she most recently worked to help co-ordinate exercise activities for seniors.

“I actually couldn’t go back to that position,” Doyle told an audience at Cowan Heights United Church in St. John’s Thursday evening. “I put in my resignation a week and a half ago.”

Crunching the numbers with her husband, it dawned on Doyle that if she did go back to work, childcare would consume all but $100 of her monthly salary.

The fact Doyle’s husband earns more money through his job appears to be a common dynamic for couples with children. It was one of several issues brought up during a public meeting focused on parental benefits in Canada. The meeting was hosted by St. John’s South-Mount Pearl NDP MP Ryan Cleary.

Joan Frampton, a civil engineer who is also the mother of a one-year-old boy, said there is little in the way of incentives under the current setup administered through Employment Insurance (EI) to encourage fathers to take time off from work to care for babies.

“In general, (men) make more money, so financially it’s not affordable for the higher income earner to stay home, which usually means mom stays home with the newborn. This just perpetuates the pay gap and enforces negative stereotypes, and I believe this is why you don’t see women in engineering or politics or in the construction industry.”

Doyle would like to see families receive two years’ worth of leave to be split between both parents.

Frampton also mentioned the need for an improved childcare plan to ease the financial burden placed on parents.

In nine provinces,  maternity and parental benefits combine to offer 52 weeks of leave and pay 55 per cent of average weekly insurable earnings. Quebec has a separate system.

Michelle Guest, whose two boys include a six-month-old, said it is difficult to manage expenses during a baby’s crucial first year of development when the benefits provided can amount to less than what a person working a minimum-wage job takes home.

She noted the cost of diapers, wipes and baby formula for those who cannot or choose not to breastfeed can really add up. While hand-me-down clothing is great, Guest said not all new mothers know others who can pass along clothing. Those who buy clothes must do so regularly, as babies grow quickly.

The United Kingdom matches Canada in terms of maternity-leave weeks, but covers 90 per cent of insurable earnings. Denmark’s duration is the same, but it funds 100 per cent of those earnings. Sweden covers 80 per cent for 420 days.

The fairness of tying parental benefits to the EI system is debateable, according to Maureen Malone, who has two young daughters and returned to her job with Eastern Health last April. Shortly thereafter, she was among those called into a meeting where employees were told of cuts that would result in reduced hours. She was on call at the time.

This news scared Malone. Fresh off parental leave, she did not have enough insurable earnings to obtain EI. Fortunately, she found a temporary position guaranteeing several months of work.

“There were a few girls beneath me in seniority who did end up on EI. So that could have been me.”

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew