Thompson Rivers University

Researchers push to keep lower leave eligibility

November 2, 2020

Dr. Lindsey McKay

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequities in Canada’s social protection policies, revealing gender inequalities that have left women — especially mothers — responsible for most of the care work, and subsequently experiencing greater levels of unemployment and job insecurity. 

Dr. Lindsey McKay, assistant teaching professor in TRU’s Faculty of Arts, has long been part of a research team focused on updating Canada’s care policies, specifically parental leave benefits. The team, led by Brock University’s Dr. Andrea Doucet, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work, and Care, recently published Redesigning Parental Leave System to Enhance Gender Equality in Policy Options.

The article calls for critical attention to re-thinking approaches to Canadian care policies and emphasizes the urgency of doing so. With the pandemic forcing many mothers out of the workplace to care for their school-aged children, many may find themselves ineligible for benefits in the future. Disruptions to mothers’ paid work could have long-term consequences when it comes to accessing EI benefits.

“I think that this moment has demonstrated how problematic it is for social protection policies to have eligibility criteria that is very high, and that is connected to EI-eligible labour market participation,” says McKay.

Before the pandemic, to qualify for parental leave benefits, most Canadian workers had to have 600 hours of employment within the past 12 months. Residents of Quebec, meanwhile, were eligible if they earned only $2,000 in 12 months, which equates to approximately 150 hours at minimum wage. 

Since the pandemic, eligibility requirements have relaxed, and parents may now be eligible having worked as little as 120 hours. The concern, says McKay, is that lowered eligibility requirements will be reversed when the economy begins to recover.

“We have an opportunity to come out of this pandemic better than we were when it started, and I hope we take this opportunity and keep the eligibility criteria low. What is good for Quebec is good for the rest of the country.”

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