Recognizing the needs of the self-employed

Raissa Tetanish
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AMHERST - Self-employed people now have the same special benefits as everyone working for a larger corporation.

The federal government passed the Fairness for the Self-Employed Act on Dec. 21 that will see maternity and paternity benefits, sick leave and leave for compassionate care.

That comes as good news for many self-employed persons, including Cindy Sperry and Brad Hoeg.

"This is a wonderful idea," said Sperry, a self-employed hairdresser for the past 19 years.

"I have two kids, ages 16 and 10. My sister and I had checked into whether or not there was anything we could pay into, but there was nothing."

Through the act, self-employed Canadians who opt into the program, which can be done as early as Jan. 31, 2010, will be eligible to receive the same benefits available to salaried employees.

That includes 15 weeks maximum of maternity benefits, maximum of 35 weeks of parental/adoptive benefits, 15 weeks maximum of sickness benefits and up to six weeks of compassionate care benefits.

"Before this act, I could see not having these benefits as a deterrent for those self-employed that wanted to have a family," Sperry said, noting that many self-employed, including herself, that want to have kids plan it so that the second comes along after the first is already in school.

"It's easier for someone self-employed to handle that," she said, noting the 15 weeks for maternity leave is more than enough for anyone.

The compassionate care benefits are available to those that need to be away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a gravely ill family member with a significant risk of death.

"When our father was diagnosed with cancer, my sister and I couldn't take the time off because we were self-employed. Our brother did everything - from taking our father to the doctor's appointments, to looking after him. It made us feel useless.

"This is really great."

Having married in 2006, Hoeg said he and his wife, Kristy, haven't yet decided on whether or not they'll have children, but the issue of being self-employed is one thing that comes up when they do discuss it.

"I think it's about time the government helped out the self-employed a little bit," he said.

"The maternity and parental benefits will help now if we do decide to have children because Kristy's not yet in a permanent teaching position.

"The benefits definitely would be a bonus."

Both Hoeg and Sperry said they'll look into opting into the program, as long as it's feasible for the self-employed.

Self-employed Canadians will be required to have opted into the program at least one year prior to claiming benefits, as well as being responsible for making premium payments starting with the tax year in which they apply to the program.

Those that opt into the program between Jan. 31 and April 1, 2010, can make a claim as early as Jan. 1, 2011.

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