Parents can spend up to a year with their baby, all paid, before going back to work. That’s thanks to the Quebec Parental Insurance Program (le Régime québécois d’assurance parentale, or RQAP). Each year 130,000 parents stay home from work for a few weeks or months when a newborn arrives.
But it doesn’t work out for everybody.
By Geneviève Doray, Naître et grandir
Take Élodie, whose job was eliminated while she was on paid maternity leave. At first she thought she was eligible for unemployment insurance, but she soon realized she wasn’t, to her great distress. UIC benefits are based on work you’ve done over the previous 52 weeks, and Élodie had been on RQAP all that time, taking care of her new infant. She hadn’t accumulated enough work hours to qualify.
An unjust and absurd situation, but it happens all the time. “Position abolished”; “Restructuring”; “New Tasks”; it’s not rare at all for women to find themselves unemployed when their maternity leave ends, or for men to find themselves without a job after their parental leave runs out. Hundreds of complaints are made about this issue alone each year. In 2016, 833 complaints on this issue were made to the Commission des norms, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (the Quebec Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board). Many more don’t complain – Élodie didn’t. Is this just the tip of the iceberg?
Many mothers have contacted me with similar nightmarish, heartbreaking stories about being left high and dry after parental and maternity leave.
Mélissa: Imagine the stress on a family to try to raise babies with no money coming in… “I’m a single parent with two children. Eight months without any income at all… No assistance. I even wrote the premier to complain. Nyet! Your only right is to slowly twist in the wind. It’ll take me 3 to 4 years easy to recover…”
Sophie: “It happened to me when I had my daughter. Two weeks before going back to work I was informed I’d been sacked because my job had been abolished… I couldn’t get unemployment benefits, and it took me 3 months to find a new job… I went bankrupt and lost my house.”
Sonia: “The rules for unemployment insurance are ripe for a change!”
It would be simple for the federal government to let new parents count two years back to calculate the number of hours worked. As Sonia says: “Isn’t it unbelievable that nowadays we still have to fight for the right to things as basic as a job and a family?”
The Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal (The Montreal Action-Unemployment Movement, or MAC) has waged a court battle for this policy to change.