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I am writing in support of the Canadian Labour Congress’ (CLC) Pilot Project for an EI training leave in the health care sector. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents more than 180,000 workers in hospitals, home care organizations, long term care, and other health care facilities across the country. These workers include, (but are not limited to), Home Health Care Aides, Nursing Assistants, Nurses Aides, Orderlies, Cooks, Registered Nurses, Licensed or Registered Practical Nurses, technicians, technologists and many other health care classifications. Health care is in desperate need of more trained staff. Our proposed pilot project is one way to tackle key human resource shortages in health care.

CUPE National represents more than 500,000 members who work in health care, social services, municipalities, libraries, schools and other public sectors across the country. CUPE members are people of all colours and new Canadians, especially women. CUPE members are very concerned about future training opportunities in this country.

The CLC description of the EI training leave program for health care workers is enclosed. We endorse this proposal. I do, however, want to take this opportunity to outline our reasons for the EI training leave for health care workers.

The main reason for the EI training leave for health care workers is that the health system in Canada needs more trained staff, now and in the future:

The apprenticeship program should be available for all health care workers, (not only nurses). There are other non-nursing health care staff who would like an opportunity for more in-depth training and advancement that an apprenticeship program could provide.

In fact, there are already workers in hospitals or health care organizations, who know the health care field, who are interested and available for upgrading by combining on-the-job experience and more formal training.

We represent many new Canadians, many of who may be trained as nurses or in other health care specialties in other countries. With Prior Learning Assessment Recognition (PLAR), they could benefit immensely from this program and Canada could benefit from their skills.

There are many people, especially Aboriginal people and new Canadians, who are looking for work in the health care field (including home care), and who are interested and available for training. CUPE has made advances in this area by signing “Aboriginal Partnership” agreements with the provincial government of Saskatchewan and with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO). These agreements commit CUPE and the employer to work together to improve employment opportunities for Aboriginal people in the health care sector and the broader public sector. Aboriginal people represent about 12 per cent of the population in Saskatchewan, but comprise only about 2 per cent of the workforce.

This pilot project can be the model for training programs in other public sectors. In the future, a regular EI training benefit for all workers who are insured through Employment Insurance can be available. Training and apprenticeship help develop Canada-wide standards. National standards allow for labour mobility between provinces. An EI training leave program could be similar to the current EI apprenticeship benefit, with the same “insurance” entitlement as when workers are unemployed, pregnant, on parental leave or temporarily sick. A worker would be able to qualify for an EI training leave depending on the number of years worked, instead of the number of hours worked, as presently used. The current method discriminates against many workers, especially women. The CLC has suggested five weeks of UI benefits each year that the worker has been a premium payer up to a maximum entitlement of fifty-two weeks. The CLC estimates that the cost of the proposed EI training leave would be less than one-half of one per cent of insured earnings.

In summary, Canada needs the Pilot Project for an EI training leave in the health care sector. There are many health care workers, working or unemployed, who want this training. The health care system needs more skilled staff in order to make Canada a safer and healthier country. The Pilot Project for an EI training leave in the health care sector is a good first step to deal with the anticipated human resource shortage in this sector.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this proposal.

In solidarity,

National President
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

:nr/opeiu 491


Cc: Morna Ballantyne, Cathy Remus, Jane Stinson, Stan Marshall, Heather Farrow


The CLC is proposing a pilot project under Employment Insurance (EI) to deal with looming skill shortages in the health care sector, and to examine how training might be transformed into a regular EI benefit for all insured workers.

What we are proposing in an EI training leave is really an expansion of EI income support that is now provided to apprentices for the classroom portion of their trades training.

There are several reasons for recommending health care as the sector for a pilot:

1. Skills development is in the interest of both health care employers and unions.

2. Emigration of nurses to the US has been linked to lack of training opportunities in Canada compared to the US.

3. Nursing and other health occupations lend themselves to a skill development model combining on-the-job experience and formal training.

4. Health care workers can upgrade in related occupations. Lab technicians, for example, could upgrade to become technologists, and nurses aides could upgrade to become nursing assistants.

On the basis of data from the last Census, there were a little over 500,000 skilled and semi-skilled health care workers in Canada, not counting doctors. This includes some 250,000 nurses, 25,000 medical therapists (such as physiotherapists), 60,000 medical technologists, 135,000 nurses aides, and 40,000 nursing assistants.

An ambitious health care-wide program might include 5% of the workforce annually, for an average of twenty-five weeks each. (This is the equivalent of 2.5% of total work time.) This is an upper estimate, and it would take a while to “ramp up” to this level given the need to develop more short- and long-term courses, the need to plan for replacements at work, etc.

If we assume a training benefit of $400 per week, the cost of such a program will be $250 million per year.

This figure is, of course, very modest in the context of the current annual EI surplus of about $7 billion, and an accumulated surplus which may hit $50 billion by the end of this year.

A pilot along these lines would be a bit more expensive than the current cost of apprenticeship training under EI, which is about $190 million.


In its long history as part of unemployment insurance, income support for apprentices, as a regular insurance entitlement, has been fully supported by all provinces. It also has been a powerful instrument in developing Canada-wide standards and labour mobility in the trades.

Nurses and health practitioners are occupations that, like the trades, have a well-defined training process — the mix of classroom instruction and work experience, publicly regulated training and occupational standards, and the possibility of an inclusive process (government, unions, employers, and education) in both human resource planning and in the setting of training and professional standards.

Nursing and health practitioners are highly skilled occupations requiring constant upgrading. And, there is virtually no income support for health workers to go back to school and upgrade.

As a regular insurance benefit, the current EI apprenticeship benefit contains many of the features that we think should be in an EI training leave program that would eventually be open to all workers.

Apprenticeship leave has the same “insurance” entitlement principles and pre-requisites as the other four areas now insured for wage loss or earnings interruption:

1. unemployment;

2. pregnancy;

3. parental leave for a newborn child or adoption; and,

4. temporary sickness.

A pilot in health care would borrow heavily from EI apprenticeship, and would test some of the essential features that an EI income support program should have:

1. Human resource planning, involving government (both federal and provincial), employers, unions, and educators, is absolutely essential.

2. Canada-wide training and occupational standards that allow workers to move from province to province.

3. A role for workers through their unions, employers, the education system and government in setting standards and in shaping the training system.

4. A role for public educational institutions to ensure access, high standards, and accountability.


The current rules which now determine a worker’s attachment to the labour force would be continued. But, that this be augmented by counting a worker’s years in the labour force for benefit entitlement to training leave. The current method of measuring significant attachment to the labour force by hours worked is clearly inadequate for large numbers of workers — particularly women.

For those workers who have been in the labour force several years, the CLC is suggesting five weeks of UI benefits for each year that the worker has been a premium payer up to a maximum entitlement of fifty-two weeks. Under this formula, only workers with ten years or more would qualify for the maximum. Obviously, there are numerous ways of formulating the minimum years required. The important point here is to use years as an additional qualifying requirement — not just hours.


Again, EI apprenticeship leave is a good indicator of what broader training leave would cost. If the program has mandatory human resource planning, inclusive decision-making structures, and a defined training process with more flexibility, there is the additional possibility of reducing layoff and a consequent reduction in unemployment benefits.

Even more important than these savings to the insurance fund are the productivity gains, economic returns, and social benefits that investment in education and skills generates for everybody. We suggest that “insurance principles and insurance requirements” in the funding of training is a much more effective and efficient approach.

The cost of our proposed leave when fully implemented would be less than one-half of one per cent of insured earnings.


A well-designed EI training leave program would also have incentives for employer-provided paid education leave. This would be similar to the premium reduction now available to employers and their employees for private insurance plans covering maternity, parental, and sickness coverage that exceeds what is provided by EI.


The unemployment insurance system has an enormous reach in establishing labour standards at the provincial level. All provinces amended their employment standards for parental leave to conform with the expansion of EI parental benefits. If training leave were introduced, provinces would update their employment standards to include training rights.

G:KHUI2002Pilot Project ﷓ Training Insurance.wpd
September 23, 2002