Bill C-340 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.
Monique Guay Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 1:45 p.m.
Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-340, as moved by the hon. member for Laurentides. She had no difficulty at all securing my support for her bill.
I think it is a matter of pure common sense. We in Quebec believe it is about common sense, because for several years now, all women in this province, except those under federal jurisdiction, are covered by a loss of income program with respect to precautionary cessation of work or nursing in situations that may be dangerous to their own health or that of the child.
I thought this was self-evident. I was a little surprised the first time the hon. member mentioned this to me, saying it did not apply, because there was no legislation allowing it.
I have listened to the hon. members from the various parties in the House and was especially pleased to hear the Alliance member say that he will support the bill, even though he asked several questions. I gather my colleague will answer at least part of these questions, with the exception possibly of those requiring specific amounts, but we will see. I know she studied the matter very extensively.
I sensed agreement in principle in my colleague from the Canadian Alliance, and I am delighted with it, as well as with the support of the representatives of the other parties, including the NDP and the Progressive Conservative Party/Democratic Representative Caucus Coalition.
As for my colleague from the Liberal Party, who is of course entitled to speak in this House, he spoke on behalf of the government. We have heard his arguments. As far as prudence is concerned, the need for caution, because other provinces do not apply a measure similar to Quebec's as far as preventive withdrawal, I would like to take a few minutes to say that I am a bit astonished by this position.
In Quebec, even where areas of Quebec jurisdiction are involved, we find, and complain very regularly here about it, that the federal government is invading areas of jurisdiction that are exclusive to the provinces. In this case, it is not a matter of invading a jurisdiction, but allowing the provinces to solve a problem. I think that the federal government has a duty to set an example to the provinces, not in the sense of obliging them to action, but at least to removing constraints.
I hope to convince my colleague, who spoke on behalf of the government, that this is a premature measure. The hon. member for Laurentides reminded the House that this was the case for this bill, as did other colleagues who spoke to the amendments to measures contained in other bills. Each time, it was greeted with interest. But in the end, it never translated into any real legislation.
Given this fact, the member for Laurentides—and I would like to congratulate her—proposed a bill to provide the government with an opportunity to take action on the issue, because it had been forgotten, even though this measure seemed acceptable to many government members.
As we know, the standing orders were changed regarding the designation of certain bills as votable or non-votable. This bill was not designated votable, which is a real shame.
I know that the member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, a young member of this House, has often said that parliament must not only be a place where people speak, it should also be a place where people are consulted, and where people make decisions.
I know that he would agree with me when I say that, despite the member for Laurentides' wonderful initiative, the time we spend here discussing this bill, if we follow the logic or the rules of the House, is just that: time to debate it.
Indeed, the government does give us a lot of time to debate, but not very much time to decide, and seldom the opportunity to vote. It is all fine and dandy to debate, but we hardly ever get to decide or vote anymore.
When I explain this to my constituents, they tell me that they thought our role was more important than that. They also tell us “We are confident in your power of persuasion, and in that of a number of your colleagues, and we hope that through it, things will change”. That is why we talk, because we hope to be able to change things.
My message to the government representative is as follows. I know him somewhat and I know that his ideas are usually open. He is known to be interested in social issues in his riding. It was surely with no great pleasure that he agreed to read a speech prepared by the officials of the Department of Transport, probably. I trust that he could change his mind and help the government change its mind too, so that, in the future at least, this parliament is not just a platform for private members' business.
Members take time to formulate a bill and to draft it, with the help of the legal advisors here. They consult their community and experts in a given field, as the member for Laurentides did, and so this should be a votable item.
I would appreciate it if it could be. In the minute I have left, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to have this bill, which seems to be positively received by everyone, made votable. If we could vote, it could go to committee, witnesses would be heard and all questions could be answered, including those of the Alliance member, who wants more detailed information. At second reading, after an agreement in principle, he could vote for it or against it.
I therefore request unanimous consent to have Bill C-340 introduced by the member for Laurentides made votable.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 1:35 p.m.
Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased on behalf of our party to have a few words to say on Bill C-340, which proposes an amendment to section 132 of the Canada Labour Code. Section 132 of the Canada Labour Code was an item we dealt with in the House a year or so ago when there was a major revision or updating of the Canada Labour Code. It deals with the right of a pregnant worker or a nursing mother at work to remove herself from a hazardous situation in the workplace.
It is very difficult to understand how anyone could vote against the bill, against motherhood. It is not a votable motion, but to speak against this kind of bill is absolutely mind-boggling.
It allows for a woman in such a position to be transferred to a safer position in the workplace and sets out the terms and conditions under which she might obtain fair compensation if she had to withdraw from a very hazardous situation in the workplace.
Obviously it is only fair and compassionate to err on the side of safety when it comes to the health of an unborn infant or a newborn infant who is still nursing. Radiation or chemical pollutants that may be in doses acceptable to an adult may cause very severe harm to and problems for a child in the womb or a newborn infant still dependent upon the mother's milk.
As a strong supporter of life and family issues, I therefore have no hesitation in supporting section 132 in that it provides a woman with options other than quitting her employment.
However, Bill C-340 takes the issue a step further in that it makes provision for a woman covered in section 132 to apply for provincial benefits instead of the relevant federal benefits. That would obviously be beneficial to the woman in the case where provincial benefits are better for the woman or more generous than those that may be offered through federal legislation under section 132.
Bill C-340 is sponsored by a Quebec member and it is no secret that Quebec has some of the most progressive and generous family benefits in the western world. Being a supporter of these benefits I would agree with a provision that provides a pregnant woman or a nursing mother with the best possible package of benefits if she has to withdraw from a hazardous situation in the workplace.
Proposed subsection 132.1(2) would allow a woman to apply for provincial benefits and also indicates that the relevant provincial agency may refuse the application, in other words, opting for provincial benefits is certainly not automatic but the right to apply would be guaranteed. Proposed subsection 132.1(3) would guarantee that the application must be processed by the provincial authority under normal rules.
Proposed subsection 132.1(4) reaffirms the right of a female worker to avail herself of provincial benefits and remedies if she is approved for them by the relevant provincial authority.
Proposed subsection 132.1(5) allows for the establishment of federal-provincial agreements to regularize the terms and conditions wherein a female worker under federal jurisdiction could opt for provincial benefits. That is standard practice in a federal state. Such agreements allow for the seamless application of rights gained at the federal level but delivered at the provincial level.
Finally, proposed subsection 132.1(6) allows for the exercise of provincial benefits under section 132 without prejudice to any other rights and responsibilities under the Canada Labour Code.
In short, Bill C-340 would allow a female employee to have access to the most generous package available for the protection of her unborn or recently born child. We in the PC Party have no hesitation in supporting the bill.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 1:25 p.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-340 on behalf of the NDP caucus. As the labour critic for our party I sat with the member for Laurentides for months as we reviewed part II of the Canada Labour Code. I can personally attest to the hard work that was done by the hon. member for Laurentides in trying to get this issue to the forefront of the national agenda or even onto the table of the national agenda. She demonstrated a great deal of compassion and was a very good advocate on behalf of working women everywhere in this country in the degree of passion she demonstrated for the issue.
The hon. member pointed out in her speech that this issue has been before the House of Commons for a decade or more. This is not new to today's debate nor was it new when we debated Bill C-12 or Bill C-19, the amendments to the Canada Labour Code that we have dealt with recently. She points out that as long ago as 1990 there was a motion before the House of Commons where like-minded people argued aggressively that the workplace was changing and that we had a duty to accommodate those changes and certainly to accommodate the growing number of women in the workforce.
We have finally reached equality, virtually, in terms of the labour market share. We have not reached equality in the labour market conditions for women. Women might make up 50% of the workforce, but they have not achieved equality in terms of compensation or the terms and conditions of their employment or the accommodation of the special circumstances facing women in the workforce, such as perhaps one of the most obvious, the issue of pregnant and nursing mothers.
When the bill was brought before the House I expected a higher degree of sensitivity for this issue from the other members of the House of Commons. I am appalled, frankly, at the lack of sensitivity demonstrated, especially by the spokesperson for the government side.
We believe, and the point was well made by the member for Laurentides, that we have a duty and an obligation to strive to achieve the highest common denominator in this country. If the federal legislation is to be considered a national standard, we then have an obligation to seek out the best conditions in the country, not to sink to the lowest conditions in any aspect of labour legislation. In the case of the province of Quebec, it has had the foresight, the political capital, I suppose, to achieve an element of fairness that goes beyond what we enjoy in the federal jurisdiction.
Therefore, it is only fair, and in the interests and the well-being of the people living in a jurisdiction where the terms of employment provincially exceed the terms of employment enjoyed in the federal jurisdiction, that a person should have the right to avail himself or herself of the terms that are more favourable for the worker, especially in the instance of a pregnant or nursing mother.
This should be one thing that we can all feel generous enough in our hearts to allow. Perhaps it could then serve as an example of how we might harmonize the jurisdictional differences in the workforce on other issues as well. However, we could start here. I argue it was a missed opportunity when we reviewed part II of the Canada Labour Code. We dropped the football in this case because we had a chance to introduce an element of fairness into the Canada Labour Code and we chose not to. It was not for lack of trying because the amendments were made at both stages where amendments are possible in the development of the bill. The hon. member worked very hard.
The only argument that was put forward by the Liberal side as to why it cannot support the bill was the weak and tired old warhorse that it is somehow a unity issue. Not only is that untrue in this case, but I believe it is 180° opposite from the truth.
Let us think of the example of a worker, a pregnant or nursing mother living in the province of Quebec who availed herself of the possibility of opting out of a certain workplace because she thought it was unsafe. If that happens we will have created two classes of worker in the province of Quebec. We might have two sisters who live in houses next door to each other, one who works for the province of Quebec under Quebec jurisdiction and the other who works for the federal government under federal jurisdiction. They live in the same city, in the same community. One will now be given full compensation for the period of time she has off and the other will be penalized by getting 55% of her income just because she works for the federal government instead of the province of Quebec. That would breed hostility. That would breed disunity. That would cause animosity among the working women in the province of Quebec.
If the only argument that can be raised here is the fact that it is somehow a unity issue or a constitutional or jurisdictional issue, let me say that in fact it is unnecessarily creating an environment of hostility and resentment among the working women of Quebec. We do a lot of things differently in our dealings with the province of Quebec. Even if for the time being the only advantage to this small amendment would be for the working women of Quebec, why is that a reason not to do it, if it introduces an element of fairness for those people?
It would also have the effect of pulling up the conditions in the other provinces, those provinces that are not fortunate enough to have such good terms and conditions. Were this in place, the best terms would have primacy, or in other words we would always gravitate to the highest common denominator and it would pull the other provinces along. We would then really be using federal legislation to its highest purpose, I believe, which is to elevate the standards right across the country from coast to coast.
Anyone who speaks against the motion is speaking for the status quo, which I believe is patently unfair. The status quo penalizes pregnant and nursing women when they opt for the right to refuse dangerous work, work that is dangerous either to themselves or to the fetus. We believe this is the only example in which when workers use their right to refuse unsafe work they suffer any kind of monetary setback. Why is it we have selected pregnant and nursing women to be the only group of workers who, when they exercise the right to refuse unsafe work, suffer a monetary penalty? That is unfair. I presume that is why the province of Quebec decided many years ago to change that situation: because it is patently unfair when these women are doing something that is best for their babies.
It borders on negligence to first open up the workforce so that more women are taking part and then not accommodate or take every step to accommodate women in the workplace. Out of ten provinces and three territories one province chose to rectify that and to remedy that unfairness. We believe that should stand as the highest common denominator and it should have primacy over any lesser piece of legislation as it affects working women.
Therefore I speak strongly in favour of Bill C-340 and I thank the member for Laurentides for giving us the opportunity to have the debate. I regret that it is only a debate. It should be a vote. It could have been an important first step to introduce an element of fairness into the working conditions in the Canadian workforce which we forgot to do, we neglected to do. No, we did not forget to do it: we chose not to be fair in this case and it is to our great shame.
We are given the opportunity to fix that today. Some members of the House are speaking against remedying that. I suppose they will have to defend their stance and be judged in some higher place than this.
In closing I would say that in other areas of legislation, in other contracts and in other legal documents, there are things called non-derogation clauses. In other words, nothing in the work we are doing today should erode what the person currently enjoys. Not having an amendment like that in Bill C-340 has the same effect as derogating the terms and conditions of employment that Quebec women currently enjoy. By going into the federal civil service or any federally regulated jurisdiction, they will diminish the rights that have already been created in their home province. We have an obligation to respect, acknowledge and allow people in Quebec to have those rights that they have earned.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 1:20 p.m.
Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB
Mr. Speaker, I stand today on behalf of my party to speak to Bill C-340, a bill that seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow pregnant and nursing employees to take advantage of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.
Right off the bat I will congratulate my colleague, the member for Laurentides, on having her bill chosen for debate. I know this is something she has worked very hard on for quite a while and something for which she feels very passionate. This particular area has been an interest of hers for quite some time.
Members in the House come from many various backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures, and certainly have different philosophies. We do not always agree on policy. However, the one thing I think we all share in common is the fact that we all had mothers and we all share the concern over the safety and health of expectant and nursing mothers.
A few months ago part II of the Canada Labour Code was amended. It was under that review that the committee was studying the proposed amendments and heard witnesses from Quebec who, like the hon. member for Laurentides, supported change to the federal legislation that would bring in line the standards in the province of Quebec.
As previous speakers have noted, pregnant and nursing mothers in Quebec can obtain a reassignment of their duties if the working conditions are hazardous to the mother, the fetus or the nursing child. The employee in Quebec has the right to cease work without the loss of rights or benefits if the employee is not reassigned.
Under part II of the Canada Labour Code, a pregnant or nursing employee may stop performing her job if she believes the health of the child is at risk. She is required to consult a physician as soon as possible but in the interim can be either reassigned or, if a reassignment is not possible, can receive the wages and benefits she would ordinarily be entitled to receive for that period during which she did not perform the job. I think this is a reasonable provision if the worker is first removed from her job if there is a health related concerned and her wages and benefits are protected.
This bill, however, would give the federally regulated employees the right to “avail herself” of the regulations in place for workers in the province in which she works. Does this mean the worker can cherry pick from the program of her choosing? Until or unless the federal government gives complete control of this area to the provinces, the federal law, in my opinion, must prevail.
Quebec seems to be the only province with this type of program. As the hon. member will be given a chance to wind up the debate with a five minute summation, I would like her to answer a few questions for me. How will the bill help pregnant and nursing mothers in other parts of Canada other than Quebec where there is no such provincial legislation that states a mother can choose from or, as the member says, avail herself of?
Could the member for Laurentides address how well this program is working in the province of Quebec? I listened to her comments when she said that we should not ask her what the program costs because it was an investment. I would like her to let us know how much this program does cost in Quebec.
We could probably debate for the rest of this session the advantages and payoffs that would come from proper health and safety for expectant mothers and their babies. I would still like to know what this costs the provincial treasury in the province of Quebec, as well as the employers. The employers obviously have to be partners in a situation like this as well.
I would also like to know how many expectant or nursing mothers take advantage of the program on an annual basis.
What are the criteria? What types of situations are covered? Such a program, while nice to have, has to have an expense to it. It has to be fairly expensive, I think, to operate and to administer.
I would also like the member to explain to the House who pays for the program and what, if any, are the premiums? Does the working mother have to pay a premium into a fund? Is it some kind of insurance? Does it all come out of the employer's pocket? How does it work?
Has the hon. member for Laurentides, and I am sure she has, done an analysis or obtained estimates of how much the program would cost to implement on a national basis?
Does she have any intention of spreading the idea that they have in Quebec across to the other provinces and territories? If so, I wonder how she would go about doing it.
It is fine to cherry pick from this situation or from the provincial legislation but if there is no legislation in, say, Saskatchewan, British Columbia or the Northwest Territories, then the bill would really be of no effect to the people who live in those other areas until such provincial legislation is passed. I see the bill as strictly being relevant to people, expectant mothers and so forth, in the provinces of Quebec.
Until jurisdiction for labour is placed solely under a provincial jurisdiction, I believe the federal law must prevail.
There will be another opportunity, as the member opposite has mentioned, to review this issue when part III of the Canada Labour Code is amended. We have been waiting for some time to see if there will be amendments and I am convinced there will be, probably later this year.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 1:15 p.m.
Gurbax Malhi Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour
Mr. Speaker, we also need to look at parts II and III of the Canada Labour Code. Part II relates to occupational safety and health and part III governs labour standards.
Members of the House will recall the extensive consultations and discussions on protecting the safety and health of pregnant and nursing women in the workplace that led to recent amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code.
At that time the House approved a new section in part II of the Canada Labour Code, section 132, to improve protection for pregnant or nursing women.
Section 132 states that a pregnant or nursing woman who believes her job creates a risk for her or for the fetus or child has the right to stop doing her job and can take the necessary time with pay to consult her physician to ascertain if she really is at risk.
Under section 132, the employee is entitled to receive all the benefits and wages attached to her job until she obtains a medical certificate supporting her claim.
If it is determined that a woman should not remain at work because of health risks to herself, her fetus or nursing child, she is then entitled to protection under part III of the code, the section that sets out standards and employer obligations in the workplace.
On maternity related measures, for example, part III sets out specific protection for pregnant or nursing mothers. For example, part III requires the employer to modify the employee's working conditions or to reassign her to another job if she is deemed to be at risk.
If neither of these options are available, then the employee is entitled to leave and whatever financial support would be related to that leave status.
Based on practical experience, most women under the federal jurisdiction have access to salary replacement through employment insurance and/or private insurance schemes when they take this leave.
In other words, the Canada Labour Code now includes comprehensive measures to ensure safe and healthy working environments for pregnant and nursing mothers. In addition, it provides for leave and it allows for access to financial compensation for the pregnant or nursing mother who is deemed to be at risk in the workplace.
Bill C-340 asks us to change the federal law so that pregnant or nursing employees under federal jurisdiction in a province would be entitled to have their personal circumstances dealt with according to the laws of the province and not under the Canada Labour Code.
It is important to note that the province of Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has a program for pregnant and nursing mothers that differs fundamentally from the federal standard. Thus, the practical effect of the bill would be to create a different system for employees under federal jurisdiction in Quebec as compared with the rest of the country.
Changes like this could have implications for labour legislation throughout Canada. When the member opposite proposes we use federal law to influence labour policy at the provincial level, she is entering into an area of constitutional complexity.
Speaking for the federal government, we have to look at what is in the best interests of the country overall. This means being willing to look at the potential to work co-operatively with the provinces and territories so that new proposals can be broadly explored.
Our successful experience in other areas of social policy, such as the national children's agenda and improvements in programs to support children and families throughout Canada, illustrates what is possible when we keep an open mind.
These examples show the positive value of working co-operatively to improve the lives of Canadians. They also illustrate that the federal government is willing to discuss and implement new ideas that will benefit all Canadians. Indeed, the government is always interested in looking at new ideas that will improve the lives of Canadians.
In the case of pregnant or nursing mothers, perhaps there are some useful lessons to be learned from Quebec's experience in the area of social policy but we need to look at that experience much more carefully before we can vote for the kind of fundamental change proposed in Bill C-340.
While we welcome the member's ideas, we suggest that the bill is premature and needs a great deal more work.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 1:10 p.m.
Gurbax Malhi Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-340.
When the member opposite talks about pregnant and nursing mothers, she is talking about a subject that the government takes very seriously. I want to assure her that the government shares her concern for the well-being of women who are pregnant or nursing. We welcome her interest in this matter.
While we have a shared interest in protecting pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace, we feel that the kind of changes proposed to the Canada Labour Code in Bill C-340 are premature.
The protection of women in the workplace, and especially of pregnant and nursing mothers, is a complex area of social policy. It involves occupational safety and health legislation, matters of workplace standards, the judgments of medical professionals, and, ultimately, the personal decisions of individual women.
To better understand the legislative situation, it is helpful first to remember that the Canada Labour Code, which Bill C-340 proposes to amend, applies only to employees working under federal jurisdiction.
Examples are transportation and communication sectors, banks and other industries that are under federal jurisdiction. While this includes many large organizations, industries under federal jurisdiction actually account for only about 10% of employees in Canada.
In other words, 90% of the working population are governed by provincial or territorial labour legislation.
In this regard, provincial or territorial governments are free to introduce whatever measures they deem to be appropriate for their jurisdictions.
We also need to look at--
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
November 6th, 2001 / 12:55 p.m.
Monique Guay Laurentides, QC
moved that Bill C-340, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with a lot of emotion today.
This bill, which is unfortunately non-votable, because it was decided otherwise—perhaps it is a little too forward looking for the government—deals with preventive withdrawal of pregnant or nursing women.
We must realize that more and more women enter the labour force every year. Women now account for 45% of employees in general. Consequently, the number of women involved in occupational accidents has also risen.
These new realities beg the question of not only reconciliating family and professional responsibilities, but also of adapting working conditions to the presence of mothers and pregnant employees.
The labour market is also facing other new realities. Indeed, pregnant women tend to stay at work longer than before, because of their often uncertain financial circumstances.
The statistics are eloquent: 82% of single parent families are headed by women; 83% of these families live under the poverty line; 91% are on welfare; and 61% of workers receiving minimum wage are women.
When it comes to preventive withdrawal, Canada has a two tier system and it is women in Quebec, whose jobs are governed by the Canada Labour Code, who are footing the bill. We in the Bloc Quebecois have made countless efforts to remedy the situation, including moving an amendment to Bill C-12.
In May 2000, during debate on Bill C-12, which amended part II of the Canada Labour Code, we proposed an amendment that would have entitled Quebec women who were pregnant or nursing and whose jobs were governed by the Canada Labour Code to benefits under the Loi sur la santé et la sécurité du travail du Québec.
I would note that, during the debate on this bill, we worked very hard and brought in an incredible number of witnesses to appear before the committee. And I do not think that the Bloc Quebecois was alone in its efforts.
We asked all the unions to appear, including the CSN, the FTQ and even a lawyer specializing in the area of preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women. This lawyer has also written a book and teaches at the University of Montreal. She has worked on specific cases involving preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women.
She appeared before the committee and told us horror stories about how women in federally regulated jobs, jobs governed by the Canada Labour Code, were not entitled to the benefit of preventive withdrawal. It is so complicated that it is ridiculous.
When one is expecting a baby is often the most important period in a woman's life. It is incomprehensible to me that, in this day and age, a woman is not allowed to go through her pregnancy with peace of mind, knowing that her child will be born healthy and that she will be able to raise it herself and give it everything it needs.
I feel obliged to give a historical overview of the repeated calls that have been made for changes since 1991, and not from my party or even this side of the House.
First, Joy Langan of the NDP introduced Motion M-147 on May 13, 1991, which read as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should pass a bill for the protection of pregnant or nursing employees from workplace hazards, guaranteeing them continuity of employment in a hazard-free environment.
Again that year, 1991, the same NDP member introduced a similar motion, Motion M-143.
On May 17, 1990, the hon. member for Abitibi--Baie-James--Nunavik, who is still sitting in this House, but at that time was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, also introduced a motion, M-655, calling for the same thing.
The current leader of our party, the hon. member for Laurier--Sainte-Marie, also called for changes to Bill C-101, on June 1, 1993. My colleague the member for Québec also introduced a motion along the same lines once again, in March of 1995.
I could go on. For instance, during the revision of the Canada Labour Code, part II, I personally proposed major amendments to protect women workers
There are two points relating to that. I was told that when the Canada Labour Code, part II, was revised, as it was last year, amendments would be made to protect female workers, to ensure that women working under federal jurisdiction would have the same rights to preventive withdrawal as women under provincial jurisdiction.
When we came to carry out that revision of the CLC, part II, we presented some major amendments and these were rejected by the minister. Her response: “We will reach a decision when we revise part III of the Canada Labour Code”. This makes no sense any more. This has been going on for ten years.
I have proof of this. They did not want this bill to be votable. That is very disappointing. It is disappointing for women who decide to become pregnant and whose workplaces are not necessarily safe during pregnancy.
Yesterday, a woman named Annie Poirier came to my office. For a while now she has been fighting and working for precautionary cessation of work. I would like to congratulate her for what she does. Her task is certainly not an easy one, because she works in a detention center. Such a working environment is not friendly, especially at the federal level. The employees are not dealing with angels, they are constantly in direct contact with prisoners incarcerated for two years or more.
These women work with prisoners all day long. They occasionally face very problematic situations and, in some cases, situations that can be dangerous for their own health and their baby's health. They live under permanent and very heavy stress. I do not know if you ever visited a federal prison, but it is quite difficult for a woman to work in such conditions. Those who do are not allowed precautionary cessation of work, and that is incredible.
I asked the Quebec department of labour—the CSST in fact, because we are enforcing the legislation with the CSST—to conduct a study in order to see if the CSST could manage the precautionary cessation of work program at the federal level if ever the federal government made commitments in that regard. I was told that it was possible, that the only requirement was that we come to an agreement with the federal government and that the legislation could very well be enforced at both levels of government.
All we need now is some political will on the part of the present government, but it is not forthcoming. Do not tell me that something will be changed in part III of the Canada Labour Code. It is not true.
When part II of the labour code was revised, we invited non political witnesses to appear before the committee because we wanted the minister to understand that it is crucial that living conditions of women be improved. She did not do anything, and it is very disappointing, all the more so because the minister is a woman. She knows what it is like to be pregnant, and what the risks are.
I wanted some action, but nothing happened. I introduced this bill, but it cannot be put to a vote. What is going to happen? I know all my colleagues are going to speak on this issue.
I am deeply disappointed, but I swear I will not give up. Things will change. We will find a way to bring about some changes, because,this situation is unconscionable.
I would like to tell the House about what happened to a young woman who is a flight attendant. Flight attendants are under the Canada Labour Code. If they want, female attendants can withdraw from work, but they must have worked a total of 600 hours, and they will only get 55% of their wages, because they will be receiving employment insurance benefits.
If they could avail themselves of preventive withdrawal, they would get 90% of their salary without having to rely on employment insurance benefits. This is something altogether different.
This young woman, a flight attendant, was on an airplane and a problem occurred. At one point, she had to remain on board four extra hours because of a mechanical breakdown. She could not avail herself of preventive withdrawal, and she lost her baby in her seventh month of pregnancy.
It is unacceptable that such things still happen in our modern society. The employment insurance fund has a surplus of $37 billion and yet we are unable to use a small amount of money to allow women to avail themselves of preventive withdrawal. This is a ridiculous.
However, I believe it is wonderful to see young women like Annie Poirier out there creating coalitions so that women can benefit from what I call a natural basis, a normal basis to survive and give birth.
Giving birth is the most wonderful thing in the world. If one cannot do it in total security, in total health, I wonder in what kind of country we are living. We spend money for all kinds of useless things but we are unable to address particular circumstances to allow women to give birth to healthy babies.
This measure would not cost a fortune. Let us look of our birth rate. The problem is not there. The problem is the absence of will on the part of the government at this time. This is something I cannot understand.
I hope that members who are here will give serious consideration to this bill. I know that I will not be able to introduce it again under its present form. However, I do hope that we hold this debate, because it addresses a critical issue. It has been under discussion for ten years now.
The Bloc is not alone. As I said earlier, the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party also took initiative in that regard. I am sure that there are many backbenchers who would like to see this happen one day, but they do not dare to speak out because of the party line. That is part of the political game.
I hope that the rules of the House will change because I find it unacceptable to introduce such an important bill—I consider it important, as important as any other bill introduced here—and then to be unable to vote on it.
However, I would like to see my colleagues, and all the women in this parliament, vote on this bill. There is a lack of will in this regard, because they made sure that we could not vote on Bill C-340.
We work here in the House and also at the committee. We work hard. We invite people to appear before the committee; there is a FTQ-CSN coalition—we can name them all—and they all agree that things have to change.
Do members know what excuse was given by the government the last time? I was told “This is all fine and well, Ms. Guay, it is done in Quebec; we admire you for that, but it is not done in other provinces”. My goodness, let us lead by example. Let us do it here at the federal level.
Let us take our responsibilities toward women, toward our children and toward our families. Let us support them. Let us pass a bill at the federal level. This will force the provinces to do the same in their jurisdictions eventually.
But no, here we never make the first move. We cannot do that; it would be dangerous. We must not speak out too much. There is a lack of political courage. The government has proven to me that it lacks political courage to an incredible extent.
And they had better not talk about the cost, because this will not cost much. In Quebec, we would even agree to have such legislation entrusted to the CSST.
I will listen very carefully to what my colleagues have to say about this bill and I will come back at the end of the debate to draw my conclusions.
Canada Labour Code
May 1st, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
Monique Guay Laurentides, QC
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-340, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code.
Mr. Speaker, I am doubly pleased to introduce on International Workers Day a bill to amend the Canada Labour Code to enable a pregnant or nursing mother to avail herself of provincial occupational health and safety legislation.
I hope this bill will receive particular attention, and that we will pass it quickly.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)