Chandra Pasma | CUPE Research

Changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance program have important implications for many collective bargaining agreements. CUPE locals have bargaining power here, and time is on their side.

The waiting period to begin receiving benefits has been reduced from two weeks to one week. This change came into effect on January 1, 2017. Previously, many locals negotiated payments during the two-week period for workers taking sick leave, compassionate care leave, or maternity or parental leave. Employers and labour unions have a four-year transition period to adjust their collective agreements without facing any penalties for overpayments. Take the time to review the options and make the right choice for your local.

Changes to parental leave, maternity leave, and compassionate care leave took effect on December 3, 2017. These changes allow women to take maternity leave earlier, allow parents to take a longer parental leave at a lower benefit rate, and expand eligibility for leave to care for a critically ill or injured family member. (Note, the changes do not apply in Quebec, where workers are covered by the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan.)

CUPE locals are responding to these changes. For example, CUPE Local 3261, service workers at the University of Toronto, bargained a one-week paid “Parental Transition Week.” This replaces one week at the beginning of maternity, parental or caregiving leave with a week of paid leave at the end (once EI benefits have ended). Other locals may want to consider similar language.

In situations where the employer has agreed to pay a “top-up” to EI benefits (but where the top-up is comparatively low), locals should consider language that gives parents a choice between adding one week of paid leave to the end of their leave or receiving a higher top-up during the leave (with the same dollar value for both options).

In response to the longer parental leave, locals need to ensure that parents who choose a leave of 18 months receive a top-up of the same dollar value as parents opting for a 12-month leave, even if it’s spread over a longer time. And remember – if your collective agreement simply states that the employer will provide a top-up equivalent to the difference between your EI benefit and 95 per cent of your salary without specifying a benefit rate, then you have a strong case to argue that you are entitled to a top-up to 95 per cent even if you take the longer leave.

CUPE locals should not feel rushed to conclude an agreement about how to handle these changes. You have tremendous bargaining power here, and the time to do things right.