Bill C-386 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers)
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.
Mario Laframboise Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
- Oct. 20, 2010 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
The House resumed from October 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to once again defend Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I hope that it will be passed. I would like to read the summary:
The purpose of this enactment is to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out. It extends the obligation to maintain essential services. The enactment also provides for the imposition of a fine for an offence.
There are two opposing philosophies here in the House. There is the philosophy of the young parties, like the Bloc Québécois, which turned 20 this year, and the NDP, which is older than the Bloc Québécois, but younger than the older parties—the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. Today's speeches by the Conservatives and the Liberals reflect the old, preconceived ideas about labour relations that they inherited from the past.
It is important for the Conservatives to listen to me. They mentioned recent disputes at Air Canada and Canadian National. I was the transport critic during the Air Canada crisis, and I was directly affected by it. The Conservatives spoke of the mediation process, but it was short-lived. The minister had already prepared back-to-work legislation. For the first time, I received phone calls from union representatives and from Air Canada representatives, who told me that this legislation should not be introduced because it would be terrible for labour relations. Both the employees and the employers were asking me to do whatever I could to ensure that the minister did not introduce the back-to-work legislation, because, once again, the mediation had not been enough. All that because the government is living in the past when it comes to labour relations.
Things have changed. There is a shortage of airplane pilots. We can do whatever we want, but there will not be enough replacement workers, because we need more airplane pilots.
Let us figure out how these disputes can be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. One way of doing so would be to pass a bill like this one, which would be a step forward. Federally regulated employees work in sectors such as transport, banking and communications, as well as in the public service, where it is easy to find replacement workers.
This is clear in the labour dispute that has been going on for over 20 months at the Journal de Montréal. Last weekend's edition of the Journal de Montréal explained how the employer wants to solve the dispute. It wants to get rid of over half of the staff, but more importantly, it wants the new publication created by the locked-out employees, ruefrontenac.com, to be shut down. The dispute has gone on so long that the employees have created their own information network, ruefrontenac.com. This is affecting the Journal de Montréal so much that, in its negotiations, it is asking the employees to shut down ruefrontenac.com.
Things are evolving. Once again, the Conservatives do not understand, and the Liberals, even less. In 2007, when Bill C-257 was introduced in the House, the Liberals voted in favour of it at second reading, but decided to vote against it at third reading because it did not cover essential services.
I prepared Bill C-386 very carefully along with the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles and the hon. member for Gatineau, who both have close ties to union organizations, as I once did, and we included the issue of essential services. Now the Liberals are saying that they do not like the definition of essential services.
The problem is that the Liberal Party opposes this bill, and so does the Conservative Party. Whether the two old parties like it or not, this affects labour relations across Canada.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 6:15 p.m.
Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC
Madam Speaker, it is with great honour that I rise today to support Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), better known as the infamous anti-scab legislation. I should point out that it is the term “scab” that is infamous.
The Bloc Quebecois is making a point of introducing this anti-scab bill for the 11th time in this Parliament. There must no longer be two categories of workers in Quebec, namely those who are governed by the Canada Labour Code, which allows the hiring of scabs, and those who come under the Quebec Labour Code, which does not allow it.
Before going further, I want to recognize the tremendous work done by the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, who has been working since November 2000, since his first day in the House, to protect the rights of workers with diligence and integrity. Today, I am not surprised that he is a strong supporter of this bill and, in fact, its sponsor.
I also want to thank the unions of the Outaouais region, where I represent the riding of Gatineau. I am thinking in particular of Dino Lemay, of the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec, or FTQ; Michel Quijada of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, or CSN; Louise Patrice, Edith Gendron, Francine Stuart and Donald Roy, of the Comité régional d'action politique de l'Outaouais of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, or PSAC. I thank them for supporting this initiative. I also thank Hassan Yussuff, of the Canadian Labour Congress, or CLC, for his support.
These people work with workers and they are well aware of the misfortunes and calamities that surface when scabs do the job of workers who are on picket lines.
This bill seeks to end the inequity between workers who are governed by the Quebec Labour Code and those who come under the Canada Labour Code. Only Quebec and British Columbia have legislation prohibiting the hiring of scabs. In this regard, it is time for the other provinces and for Canada to get out of the dark ages.
The passage of anti-strikebreaker legislation in Quebec goes back to December 1977 under the government of René Lévesque of the sovereignist Parti Québécois. It was an impressive leap forward in respect for the rights of working people.
It happened at the end of a particularly stormy strike at the United Aircraft plant in Longueuil. By severely limiting the ability of employers to simply thumb their noses at unions, this legislation put Quebec in a leadership position in North America.
Anti-strikebreaker legislation would be good for all working people who come under the Canada Labour Code, both in Quebec and in all provinces and territories,
On the federal level, subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition on the use of replacement workers, but only when an employer uses them for the purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity. That is weak, very weak, because all that an employer has to do in order to be entitled to hire scabs is continue to recognize the existing union and negotiate with it so that its representational capacity is not undermined. In other words, only if the employer refuses to negotiate while using replacement workers can the Canada Industrial Relations Board step in and forbid their use.
An employer just has to negotiate, or appear to negotiate, with the union in order to circumvent the prohibition and continue using strikebreakers.
This is a ridiculous provision, therefore, that provides a giant loophole for the use of scabs. A prohibition on the hiring of replacement workers during labour disputes is more necessary than ever, therefore, to reduce violence on picket lines, encourage a fair balance of forces in the negotiations between employers and employees, reduce litigation as a result of strikes and lock-outs, and mitigate the hard feelings that arise among employees when they return to work.
There is a very broad consensus among the various unions on the importance of anti-strikebreaker legislation. It is absolutely essential in the workplace of today because it provides for greater transparency in labour disputes. I should add in passing that this bill will not cost the government any money. It is about time, therefore, that the Conservatives and all my Liberal friends voted in favour of this bill, which will ensure some respect for workers when they negotiate with their bosses to make sure they are not penalized while the bosses make money using scabs who are often paid less than the people on the picket line. When this happens, very ugly situations arise within a community, especially if it is small and neighbours are taking jobs from one another. There is an imbalance, therefore, in the negotiations over a return to work.
With this in mind, the current situation under the Canada Labour Code—allowing the use of replacement workers—means that there are very negative consequences during strikes and lockouts. There are many negative effects, and they clearly illustrate the importance of bringing forward dispute-reduction measures. The premise is that labour disputes last longer when scabs are used. This, in turn, reduces the purchasing power of workers directly or indirectly involved in the dispute and results in households going into debt. In some cases, disputes can cause social problems, considerable violence, and stress-related psychological problems.
Anyone who has their heart in the right place will vote in favour of an anti-scab bill, based on a bill drafted by the Bloc Québécois and firmly supported by the NDP.
To provide a few examples of the benefits of Quebec's legislation, here are some figures showing how anti-scab legislation can have positive effects on the work climate and the bargaining climate between employers and employees.
In 1976, before anti-scab legislation was passed in Quebec, the average number of working days lost was 39.4. In 1979, after the legislation was passed, the average was 32.8 days, and in 2001 it was 27.4 days.
With good labour relations, with employers and employees on equal footing, the parties try to come up with a solution more quickly to ensure that everyone wins when they end up in a bargaining situation. Workers choose to strike as a last resort. It is not their first choice. Nonetheless, when they have to, they have to, but they have to do it fairly.
This clearly shows that dispute settlements are quicker and fairer when employers and unions negotiate under the same constraints. Unfortunately, the Canada Labour Code still allows the use of scabs in Quebec, with the result that there have been labour disputes that demonstrate how urgent it is to pass this bill. Take the case of Vidéotron for example.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 6:05 p.m.
Alice Wong Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism
Madam Speaker, the provisions of Bill C-386 are being debated in the House today. This proposed legislation, if enacted, would result in substantial changes to key sections of the Canada Labour Code. It would prohibit the use of replacement workers at federally regulated workplaces during a work stoppage. In effect, it would mean that federal employers would be banned from using replacement workers during a work stoppage.
Our position on this bill is very clear. It is bad for labour relations, it is bad for the economy, and it is bad for Canada. I do not see anything in the bill's proposed provisions that would help boost Canada's ability to create jobs and be more competitive in today's economy. What I do see in the bill is a recipe for instability and uncertainty in Canadian labour relations.
I would like to take the next few minutes to share with you why in my view the provisions of this bill run contrary to the spirit of what the government tries to achieve through its mediation and conciliation service. This approach has served Canada well for over a century as it tries to get at and resolve the root causes of labour disputes.
Let us first look at our proud tradition of mediation. Canada has a proud tradition of resolving labour disputes via mediation and preventive mediation. Our government has been finding workable solutions to labour disputes by appointing mediators and conciliation officers. These people in turn have helped unions and employers reach collective bargaining settlements.
One of the solutions is the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, FMCS. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service provides dispute resolution and dispute prevention assistance to trade unions and employers governed by the Canada Labour Code. Mediation and conciliation officers are appointed to help parties resolve impasses in collective bargaining. In addition, preventive mediation services are offered and designed to help employers and unions build and maintain constructive working relationships during the term of a collective agreement.
Today nine out of ten collective bargaining disputes in the federal jurisdiction are settled without a work stoppage. Our government supports the use of mediation and preventive mediation services because they have been proven to be effective.
Unlike the proposed provisions of Bill C-386, mediation services do not force sides against one another. They do not tilt the playing field in favour of one side. It is an approach that finds solutions, lasting solutions. Just as important, it is an approach that recognizes that the best labour relations strategy of all is the one that prevents disputes from happening in the first place.
The Annis report confirms our belief that preventing disputes from happening in the first place means that we must get to the root causes of a labour dispute. It was with that principle in mind that in 2008 our government commissioned industrial relations expert Peter Annis to conduct a study on the causes and effects of work stoppages in the federally regulated private sector. That study was completed in the fall of 2008 and was submitted to the minister of labour for consideration.
Of particular note, one of the options identified by Mr. Annis was to strengthen the federal preventive mediation program. This proposal was strongly supported by labour and management stakeholders alike because they know that preventive mediation works. They know that it can help parties work together to resolve their differences and prevent work stoppages from happening in the first place.
Now I would like to comment further on the risks of Bill C-386. I have demonstrated why our government continues to invest wisely in preventive mediation, including the commissioning of a third party report on work stoppages. We want to see positive results that satisfy both sides in the interests of our industries and our national economy. Bill C-386 puts those gains at risk.
This bill, if passed, would inflict harm on the balance that was achieved when the Canada Labour Code was modernized. It would leave federal employers completely unable to even try to operate at minimal levels during a strike or lockout. Not only could this result in productivity losses, it could undermine confidence in Canada's economy, something that we are working hard at sustaining through these challenging economic times.
Now let us look at previous legislative efforts. As members are aware, the House has debated numerous private members' bills on the matter of replacement workers in the federal domain over the past two decades. All of these bills were defeated. Yet here we are again focusing on the same narrow issues while the bigger and more important issue, that of productive labour-management relations, gets lost.
Given what we know about what works best for building good labour relations, how does Bill C-386 measure up? Not very well. Do the provisions in this bill help to get at the root causes of a labour dispute? No. Does this bill seek to engage parties in long-term dialogue and to build consensus? No. By seeking to impose a solution on both sides via the legislative process, this bill would undermine any efforts to build consensus between the employers and labour and prevent work conflicts in an effective way.
Let us focus on how we can prevent disputes from happening in the first place.
Let us respect the need to maintain a sense of balance in labour relations.
Let us put an end to debating one legislative attempt after another, each seeking to ban replacement workers without consultation and without compromise.
For these reasons, I urge all members to oppose Bill C-386.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC
Madam Speaker, I am obviously in favour of Bill C-386, and I congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for presenting it with so much determination and conviction. However, after hearing the arguments of the Conservatives and the Liberals on this issue, I doubt that we will be able to advance the cause of Canadian workers, which I think is an argument—yet another one—in favour of Quebec sovereignty.
We knew that the Conservatives did not like unions. They have said so many, many times, but in this 40th Parliament, they are more determined than ever to prove it to us.
Yesterday, Bill C-395, which excluded the period of a labour dispute from the qualifying period for employment insurance, died on the order paper because it did not receive a royal recommendation. The Conservatives did not support this bill, which would have guaranteed that workers whose plant closed or whose jobs were eliminated would be entitled to benefits based on the time they worked before the dispute. Words cannot express how much this heartless approach gets to me. That is one of the big Conservative principles that the Prime Minister brags about. They do nothing while the workers are struggling.
It was also the Conservative party that, in part 10 of the 2009 budget implementation bill, formerly Bill C-10, imposed salary conditions on federal public servants despite collective agreements that had already been signed. And what did the legislation say? I think that we need to see all of the elements to really understand why the Conservative government members voted against Bill C-386.
The Act said that, should the signed collective agreement propose an increase higher than what was set out in section 16, not only would the increase no longer be valid, but any increase higher than 1.5% that was received after December 8, 2008, would have to be paid back as per section 64.
Subsection 64(1) said:
Every amount paid—including amounts paid before the day on which this Act comes into force—to any person in excess of the amount that should have been paid as a result of this Act is a debt due to Her Majesty and may be recovered as such.
With Bill C-10, which passed because the Liberals supported the Conservatives yet again, the government announced to public servants that if they had negotiated a better collective agreement than the one imposed by the Act, the employees needed to repay what they had earned. Can this really be?
Would a government that abandons workers who lose their jobs following a labour dispute, forcing them to turn to the provinces for social assistance, a government that reneges on its own collective agreements and imposes new salary conditions, would a government like that vote in favour of a bill like Bill C-386? Come on.
During the first hour of debate, the Conservative member for Simcoe North stated, and I quote:
[Some are fond of citing] Quebec as an example of a jurisdiction that has successfully enacted a legislative ban on the use of replacement workers, but they are less likely to mention that Quebec's efforts were enacted more than 30 years ago. It is important to keep in mind the context here. The economic and labour issues faced by the province of Quebec in the 1970s are absolutely not the same as the ones faced by the Government of Canada today. It is an entirely different scenario.
Well, he was right. That is why on September 22, 2010, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed the following motion:
That in order to ensure that the Quebec Labour Code reflects the new realities of today's workplace, the National Assembly is calling on the Government of Quebec to examine the possibility of updating the Labour Code, particularly with respect to the anti-scab provisions, in order to take into account the impact of new technology.
Legislation preventing the use of replacement workers in order to achieve a balance of forces in labour disputes between employers and employees is as relevant in 2010 as it was 30 years ago. It is not a question of context, regardless of what the Conservative member from Simcoe North thinks, it is a question of values.
In contrast to Quebec, which prohibited it in 1977, there is nothing at the present time in the Canada Labour Code that specifically forbids the use of strike breakers.
Clause 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition on the use of replacement workers, but only when an employer uses them “for the demonstrated purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity”. This is a very weak prohibition because all that an employer has to do in order to demonstrate his good faith is continue to recognize the existing union and negotiate with it in order to have the right to use replacement workers.
A firm prohibition is absolutely essential, though, in order to encourage civilized negotiations and industrial peace. It is also the key to a fair balance of forces between employers and employees.
Workers in sectors that fall under the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications, banks, ports, bridges, air transport and so forth, constitute about 8% of the Quebec workforce and they are disadvantaged, therefore, when they have to negotiate with their employers. As a result, strikes tend to last longer.
According to Quebec labour ministry statistics, workers in Quebec whose employer falls under federal jurisdiction are almost always over-represented in the number of days of work lost.
Even though they made up just under 8% of the Quebec workforce, they were responsible for 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and for 22.6% in 2003. In 2002, they constituted 7.3% of the workforce and were responsible for 48% of the work days lost due to labour disputes.
In short, over the last decade, the person-days lost by workers in Quebec covered by the Canada Labour Code were on average two and a half times greater than they should have been, given the demographic weight of these workers.
This means, of course, that strikes are longer—we have seen more when the federal government is involved—and more violent when employers can hire strike breakers.
They talk about good labour relations and mediation to justify their opposition to Bill C-386, but we will get back to that.
The Conservative government stated its opposition at the outset, and having no genuine arguments, retreated behind apocalyptic scenarios that have nothing to do with reality. Quebec has had legislation prohibiting replacement workers for 30 years, and there have been no catastrophes.
The Liberal labour relations critic has already made it known that she intends to vote against Bill C-386. And what is the red herring argument she gives for this? Allow me to quote what she said in the first hour of second reading of this bill on June 11:
What is at the core of my argument that we should not be supporting this private member's bill? The key to the situation really is fair and free collective bargaining that is balanced between employers and unions. I would assert that this balance cannot be maintained and improved through a selective private member's bill that picks [either of these groups].
In short, she suggested allowing scabs until a crisis erupts and ensuring the right to fair collective bargaining. If, during a labour dispute, the workers are the only losers and the plant is working on all cylinders thanks to replacement workers, the Liberal critic feels that there is fair collective bargaining. We would not need to harm the economy and it is just too bad for the poor strikers on the picket line.
However, I do not agree, and like the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I am asking my colleagues to support this bill and to listen to what will be said in committee by the main stakeholders: the workers.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to and support Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).
This issue truly strikes close to home for me in the wake of the prolonged Vale Inco strike in Sudbury, which was finally settled this past July, and the strikers currently on the picket line in Voisey's Bay. During this protracted strike, nearly a year long in Sudbury, the hardship caused by a strike of this magnitude could be seen everywhere, not only on those workers directly affected by the strike but by their families and the community as a whole. Not only were the livelihoods of the individual workers at Vale Inco severely affected, but the observable economic spinoff effects felt throughout the larger community were almost as severe.
On nearly a daily basis I heard stories from striking workers who were facing tough economic times and even tougher decisions about where they could cut back on necessities in order to ensure that their mortgages, utilities and other household expenses were paid on time. The fact that Vale Inco was able to fill the labour void that the strike created, with the use of temporary or scab workers, served only to make the situation that much more dire for the workers on the picket line, as well as for their families and their dependants.
We may ask ourselves how Bill C-386 would serve to lessen the impact on the lives of striking workers, their families and the community as a whole. Provincial legislation banning the use of scabs during labour disputes paints an interesting picture.
For instance, Quebec was the first province to enact a ban on replacement workers, in 1977. In the year prior to the ban, the average number of working days lost through an individual labour dispute was 39.4. In 1979, after the act was passed, the average was 32.8 days. In 2001, it was 27.4 days. Therefore, the enactment of similar legislation in the province of Quebec has led to an average decrease in the length of strikes by 12 days.
Looking at aggregate numbers, the picture is even more impressive. In 1976, the year prior to the adoption of the anti-scab laws in Quebec, 6.4 million worker days were lost to strikes. In 1977, the number of days lost dropped to 1.2 million. This clearly demonstrates that banning replacement workers helps to reduce the number of work days lost to labour disputes, which reduces the economic hardship felt not only by striking workers and their families, but also the broader community. This is because a reduction in the length of strikes leads to a tangible reduction in the economic spinoff effects that a strike can have on a community.
Quebec is not the only province where anti-scab legislation is in effect. British Columbia passed a similar law in 1993, which had the effect of reducing strike days to levels comparable to those in Quebec. It also resulted in a 50% drop in the ratio of time lost.
Ontario too adopted anti-scab legislation, albeit too briefly. The NDP government enacted it in 1992, and the Mike Harris government repealed it immediately upon taking office. Nonetheless, even in that brief period, declines in work stoppages were evident in Ontario as well.
In addition to the provincial examples of banning the use of replacement workers, evidence suggests that anti-scab legislation promotes civilized negotiations during labour disputes, strikes or lockouts, and reduces picket line violence and the social and psychological problems caused by the extraordinary stress of labour disputes. Banning replacement workers would diminish the resentment that employees feel upon returning to work and would foster a fair balance and greater transparency in the negotiations between employers and employees.
Contrary to what some observers had predicted, the introduction of anti-scab legislation did not lead to the creation of strike-happy unions run by unreasonable and irrational negotiators, as some opponents of this legislation have claimed.
One of the biggest fears of corporate employers has always been that a ban on replacement workers would render unions more militant and difficult at the bargaining table. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any relationship exists between jurisdictions using anti-scab legislation and increased wage demands or settlements. Unions are not interested in negotiating an employer out of business. Economic conditions, rather than the presence of anti-scab laws, are what continue to dictate the tone and content of negotiated agreements.
There already exists a provision in the Canada Labour Code that prohibits the use of replacement workers if they are used to undermine the union's representational capacity. That provision is enshrined in subsection 94 (2.1) of the Code. Although the section sounds like it ought to be effective, in fact, it is a paper tiger. As long as the business keeps up the facade of continuing to bargain with the union, it allows employers to carry on business as usual, with the help of scab labour. I believe it is fair to say that a situation similar to this was a defining feature of the protracted strike at Vale.
Something clearly needs to be done to close this corporate loophole that allows companies to hire replacement workers at the expense of those who engaged in legitimate collective action.
As my experience in working in the great riding of Sudbury suggests, the use of replacement workers can have detrimental effects on not only striking workers, but on the community as a whole. The interests of striking workers should not take a back seat to corporate interests, which seek to undermine legitimate collective action in an attempt to improve the bottom line while lining their pockets with corporate bonuses. Corporate interests should not be exaggerating the need for the use of replacement workers when the evidence strongly suggests that the use of replacement workers serves only to prolong the duration of a strike.
The statistics presented above demonstrate that a clear link exists between the existence of anti-scab legislation and the actual duration of a strike. The arguments which present the need for scab workers to maintain operational capacity are null and void.
Therefore, I call on my colleagues in the House to support this valuable legislation. Every time similar legislation has made its way to the House in the past, the New Democrats have been vocal supporters. This time is no different. I hope the hon. members sitting on both sides of the House come to their senses and begin to side with the interests of working and middle-class Canadians instead of large corporations.
Parliament should be focused on the needs of hard-working Canadians. The passage of anti-scab legislation would go a long way toward assuring ordinary working and middle-class Canadians that their government actually cares about them in what, for many, has become a daily struggle just to make ends meet.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-386.
The bill seeks to prohibit the use of replacement workers during work stoppages in federally regulated sectors. It is important to highlight these key sectors of the economy, which include international and interprovincial rail, road and air transportation, shipping and longshore operations, grain handling, uranium mining, banking, broadcasting, telecommunications, and certain crown corporations such as museums.
This bill is not in the best interests of workers. If it were passed, we would create uncertainty in the labour market in general and in these federally regulated industries in particular. Uncertainty costs jobs.
Clarity, transparency, and a process that resolves disputes without having to resort to a work stoppage, this is how we protect jobs. I suggest to hon. members that especially in these difficult economic times we do not want to replace a system of clarity, transparency, and the resolving of disputes with one that would create more uncertainty.
More important, the bill, if passed, would upset the careful balance that has been established under the current legislation and the programs available to help resolve labour disputes.
I would point out to the House that last year marks the 10th anniversary of the passage of comprehensive amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code, the part dealing with industrial relations. Those amendments modernized the code and improved collective bargaining in federally regulated industries.
Before passing those amendments, the government of the day consulted extensively. Andrew Sims, Q.C., who was chair of the Alberta Labour Relations Board at the time, chaired a task force that consulted with businesses, unions, academics, and other interest groups.
His task force sought a balance between many different interests. Sometimes these interests were in conflict with one another and sometimes they were in cohesion. We sought a balance between labour and management, the public interest and free collective bargaining, and rights and responsibilities.
Mr. Sims and his task force found a workable balance among these issues. One of the key areas where this balance applied was in the rights and obligations of parties during a work stoppage. This was a contentious issue even among task force members.
These positions of unions and management on the question of replacement workers can be quite polarized. Generally, unions look to a complete ban on the use of replacement workers, while most employers want a free hand.
Even the members of the task force could not reach consensus on this issue. Eventually, the majority of the task force members recommended a balance that would permit employers to carry on operations during a work stoppage, while protecting the union's right to strike and retain its bargaining authority.
That is the balance that was attained in the replacement worker provisions that came into effect under section 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code in 1999. It is a provision that has served Canada well for the past 10 years. It is a carefully crafted balance that the hon. member would upset with this bill. It has helped provide a degree of relative peace in labour relations over the past 10 years.
The bill before us today would stir the pot and bring to the surface many of the contentious issues that the task force carefully examined in making its recommendations.
If unions believe that they have employers over a barrel because of the prohibition on replacement workers, some may be encouraged to refuse the concessions that might otherwise resolve a dispute. They hold the trump card.
Independent studies have looked at the impact of anti-replacement worker laws on work stoppages. Most found no evidence that a legislative ban had an effect on activity, but some found that a prohibition on replacement workers led to more frequent and longer strikes.
In this time of economic recovery, we do not need the greater uncertainty that such legislation would bring. On the other hand, the current system of balance on the issue of replacement workers has supported an environment where labour and management are brought together to resolve disputes at the bargaining table, not by resorting to a work stoppage.
I would remind the House of the highly effective programs now in place to bring management and unions together. Through the labour program, the Government of Canada promotes fair, safe, and productive workplaces and co-operative workplace relations.
Unions and employers are provided with federal services to help resolve their collective bargaining disputes through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the FMCS. It provides tools for dispute resolution through the services of neutral third-party conciliation and mediation officers. These officers have a mandate to help both parties reach an agreement.
Hon. members will recall, for example, that Air Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees reached an agreement with the assistance of federally appointed mediators. Labour stability was one of the key elements to ensure that Air Canada could navigate through the economic uncertainty. Both Air Canada and the CUPE made an extra effort to settle their differences with the help of the federally appointed mediators.
The FMCS also gets involved in arbitration by providing a professional arbitrator, who examines both sides of the dispute and renders a binding decision. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service also provides dispute prevention services. For example, officers can provide training workshops. They customize these programs to meet the specific needs of the organizations and individuals involved, everything from development of negotiation skills and committee effectiveness to problem solving.
Workshops typically last from one to three days and are delivered by well-trained FMCS mediators. In these ways, the FMCS provides important benefits to employers and unions by improving the relationships between both parties during the closed period of a collective agreement.
The FMCS succeeds in providing these services because the relative strength of both labour and management balances under the current provisions for replacement workers. Neither side wants to provoke a stoppage, both sides are willing to talk, but striking this balance was a complex and demanding challenge. The history of labour relations over the past years indicates that for the most part the Sims task force got the balance right.
One way we can tell that the task force got the balance right is the numerous occasions over the past years that an hon. member of one political persuasion or another has tried to amend the collective bargaining provisions. I cannot begin to count the number of times the House has debated measures similar to those of the hon. member, measures that seek a different balance.
On each and every occasion, the motion or the bill has been voted down. Why? Because it has not represented an improvement over what has been put in place by the task force, and that is the case for this bill from the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. These measures would breed uncertainty and upset a carefully constructed balance that has helped build and sustain our good labour relations in this country.
This bill is not good for workers, it is not good for the economy, and it is not good for Canada. I urge hon. members to join me in voting against it.
The House resumed from June 11 consideration of the motion that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
June 11th, 2010 / 2:25 p.m.
Robert Vincent Shefford, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-386 introduced by my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel who, on behalf of his political party, is trying for the umpteenth time to put an end to the use of replacement workers in Canada and Quebec.
While Quebec legislated on this a long time ago, workers governed by the Canada Labour Code working in Quebec are not covered by Quebec's Bill 45, passed during the first mandate of the late René Lévesque. This Conservative government is once again ignoring one of the main demands with respect to how the whole area of work relations is governed.
Why is anti-strikebreaking, or anti-scab, legislation necessary? For one thing, the Bloc Québécois would like all workers in Quebec, whether governed by the Quebec Labour Code or the Canada Labour Code, to have the same rights. The Conservative government's stubbornness is creating two distinct classes of workers in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way of recognizing the outstanding contribution of all these men and women who are helping build the Quebec society on a day-to-day basis is to show genuine respect for their rights, starting by banning the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts.
Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power, and would keep tension on the picket lines to a minimum. That is the basic objective of Bill C-386, which would prohibit the hiring of replacement workers.
At this point, I would like to list what the Conservative government has done in response to the many expectations of the labour movement. It is a very short list. How much has the Conservative government given to help the unemployed, the tens of thousands of workers who have lost their job in the forestry sector? Peanuts, compared to the billions of dollars it has showered on Ontario to help auto workers. What has the Conservative government done to eliminate the two-week waiting period for people who become unemployed? Nothing.
Workers who lose their jobs go through stress and anxiety. Their income is cut off at the source. Meanwhile, they are expected to wait patiently for a Service Canada official to examine their file, and often they have to endure processing delays, not to mention the 1-800 telephone line, which is insane. In addition to waiting for an answer, the poor jobless people have to put up with this irresponsible treatment.
I will continue with my list, because since I came to the House of Commons in 2004, my social priorities have always included the unemployed and older workers. This government is still refusing to support our proposal to increase the maximum EI benefit period for workers with a serious illness from 15 to 50 weeks. It is currently 15 weeks, as if someone's cancer could be treated in 15 weeks.
I could pull out the list of measures we have called for in recent years and the many bills we have introduced to help our workers. The list of no's from ministers and members is as long as our list of requests. By the way, the government voted against Bill C-429, which would have promoted the use of wood in the construction of federal buildings and would have helped workers in Quebec. But no, the government ignored our workers again. That was another trademark vote by the Conservatives.
I would like to remind hon. members once again of one of the most anti-worker statements ever heard here in the House. On December 3, 2009, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain said this:
I do not see anything in the bill's proposed provision that would help boost Canada's ability to create jobs and to be more competitive in today's economy. What I do see in the bill is a recipe for instability and uncertainty in Canadian labour relations.
What an explanation. According to him, having workers out on the street for months or years is what will stimulate employment, as will the uncertainty of the workers who do not have sufficient power to assert their legitimate rights. What is the government doing about the uncertainty experienced by the many families of strikers affected by these lasting disputes? Nothing, nothing and more nothing. It prefers to build lakes—that is a good one—for journalists and delegates at the G8. In their right-wing vocabulary, the Conservatives call this “stimulating the economy”. I call it keeping families in poverty.
Let us get back to the Conservative government's sad record.
Here is a clear example of that record. During the CN conflict, the Conservative government passed special legislation with respect to Canadian National. The latter had been training its managers and a large group of non-unionized employees for several months in order to maintain service. In the case of CN, they were maintaining over 60% of service. However, Canadian Pacific, which has two parallel lines across Canada—one used by CN and the other by CP—could have covered the other 40% that CN claimed it could not. They could also have resorted to trucking, as well as the short lines in the regions, to serve the Canadian public.
For the Montreal region, for example, AMT had signed an agreement for continuous passenger service and CN would have covered not just 100%, but 120% of the service provided to its clients.
Given all these responsibilities and possibilities, I wonder why the Conservatives thought there was a crisis and why was there a need for additional service? We have to allow negotiations between the parties to continue in good faith and force them to agree on a collective agreement, and not vote on a special law to force workers back to work.
I would also point out to my hon. colleagues that CN is a private corporation, which is why I do not understand why the government became involved in the dispute. Indeed, when it comes to private corporations, we believe that they are in a position to negotiate with workers themselves and capable of doing so, but they do not, nor do they have to. All they have to do is call up the government and say that they are going on strike and will not be able to provide the service. Since it is a transportation service, it is very important. What did the government do? It passed special legislation to force the workers back to work. They forget about negotiating; they make them work and everything goes back to what it was before, without any thought given to negotiating with the workers. I find that unreasonable on the government's part. It is always trying to denigrate workers. Yet our workers form the foundation of the Canadian and Quebec economy. And they are the first people the government tries to steal from.
We saw it again with the $57 billion that the government stole from workers. It is not enough to tax them or to take taxes off at the source, it always wants a little bit more. As for employers, their taxes have been cut. It is not employers that are producing what Canada needs to survive. It comes from the taxes paid by workers.
I could also talk about the theft from the employment insurance fund surplus. My mother always told me that when you take something that is not yours, it is stealing. When they dipped into the employment insurance fund that was not theirs, it was stealing. I will not contradict my mother here today. If she said it, it is because it is true. Nothing will change my mind.
Back when the Conservatives were in opposition, they constantly condemned the Liberals' practice of pillaging the employment insurance fund. Now, with Bill C-9, they are about to keep doing the same thing. How? By wiping the slate clean, as they say. The Conservatives are telling workers and employers, the people to whom that money belongs, that they should forget about recuperating the $57 billion that the government siphoned off over the years.
The Prime Minister himself once recognized that employment insurance fund money was misappropriated to pay down the deficit. He promised workers that he would repay the $57 billion that Ottawa diverted. Now he is breaking that promise.
The proposed new employment insurance measures are particularly sickening because the Conservatives are trying to hide them among the dozens of other initiatives in Bill C-9. Unfortunately, these kinds of anti-democratic manoeuvres have become par for the course with the Conservative government.
With the end of the parliamentary session just days away, on behalf of unionized workers subject to the Canada Labour Code, and on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, we urge the Conservative ministers and members to say yes to anti-scab legislation.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
June 11th, 2010 / 2:15 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).
In short, the bill is anti-scab legislation. It is almost identical to my bill on the same subject. In fact, my bill, Bill C-337, was introduced prior to the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that governs the timing of private member's business is such that Bill C-386 has come up first. That is absolutely fine, as long as we can ensure that the long overdue ban on replacement workers finally becomes law.
The last time I spoke to this issue in the House, I was deliberately provocative by quoting Jack London. London, of course, is best known for his novels, The Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf. However, germane to the debate today is his 1915 Ode To A Scab. I would still recommend that poem to all Canadians who may be watching this debate today. A quick Google search will lead you straight to the verse. However, despite its powerful description of the odious and destructive nature of scab labour, in the interest of not teasing the bears on the Conservative and Liberal benches, I will refrain from reading it into the record today.
Let me, instead, begin by quoting the preamble of the Canada Labour Code. It states:
—there is a long tradition in Canada of labour legislation and policy designed for the promotion of the common well-being through the encouragement of free collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes;
The intent of the preamble is to create some balance in labour relations. Capitalist economies embody inherent conflict between the economic interests of business and the economic interests of workers. The very nature of the employment relationship is authoritarian and exploitative and thus conducive to insecurity, distrust and class antagonism. The level to which these underlying conflicts manifest themselves in the workplace is uneven. However, combined with broader social inequalities and precarious labour market opportunities, employers hold the upper hand. That remains true with or without anti-scab laws.
The introduction of a formal regime of collective bargaining, the right to strike, minimum wages and occupational health and safety laws were all accomplished by the struggles of the labour movement to right that imbalance.
The one piece that is still missing in establishing a reasonable balance of power in the workplace relates to the fact that most businesses in Canada are still permitted to hire people to do the jobs of striking workers.
It is true that there is a provision in the Canada Labour Code that prohibits the use of replacement workers if they are used to undermine the union's representational capacity. That provision is enshrined in section 94(2.1) of the code. While the section sounds like it ought to be effective, in fact, it is a paper tiger. As long as a business keeps up the facade of continuing to bargain with the union, it allows employers to carry on business as usual with the help of scab labour.
That situation is untenable. It undermines a fair and reasonable balance in negotiations between employers and employees. Allowing employers to bring in replacement workers during a legal labour dispute negates entirely the only power that workers have at the bargaining table, and that is the right to withhold their labour.
When workers are so unilaterally stripped of their power, they become desperate. There is a scene in the film Billy Elliot where replacement miners in northern England are bused to work, while the striking workers pelt them with eggs and hurl insults at them. It is a stark visual of what is true in Canada as well. The largest single source of injuries on a picket line is scab labour.
By contrast, anti-scab legislation promotes civilized negotiations during labour disputes, during strikes or lockouts, and reduces picket line violence and the social and psychological problems caused by the extraordinary stress of labour disputes. Banning replacement workers would diminish the resentment that employees feel upon returning to work and would foster a just balance and greater transparency in the negotiations between employers and employees.
That is not simply idle speculation. We know for a fact that anti-scab legislation does indeed have that desired effect. It was well-documented in Canadian jurisdictions that have had anti-scab legislation at the provincial level for some considerable time. Specifically, I am referring to Quebec and British Columbia.
Quebec was the first province to enact the ban on replacement workers in 1977. In the year prior to the ban, the average number of working days lost through labour disputes was 39.4. In 1979, after the act was passed, the average was 32.8 days. In 2001 it was 27.4 days.
Looking at aggregate numbers, the picture is even more impressive. In 1976, the year prior to the adoption of anti-scab laws in Quebec, 6.4 million worker days were lost to strikes. In 1977 the number of days lost dropped to 1.2 million.
Another interesting set of statistics makes an equally powerful case for anti-scab legislation. In all cases, they demonstrate that banning replacement workers helps to reduce the number of work days lost to labour disputes.
First, the average work time lost from 1992 to 2002 is 15.9 days for workers who come under the Quebec Labour Code and 31.1 days for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That represents a difference of 95.6% in days of work lost. Those lost days represent a lot of money for both companies and Canadian workers.
Second, and again looking at 2002 statistics, despite the fact that workers under federal jurisdiction made up only 6.6% of the labour force in Quebec, they accounted for a whopping 48% of the days lost as a result of labour disputes.
Third, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees from 1999 to 2002, was 121.3 for workers covered by the Quebec Labour Code compared to 266.3 for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That is a huge difference: 145 more days of work lost. Again, this can largely be attributed to the use of scabs.
Quebec is not the only province where anti-scab legislation is in effect. British Columbia passed a similar law in 1993, which had the effect of reducing strike days to levels comparable to those in Quebec. It also resulted in a 50% drop in the ratio of time lost.
Ontario, too, adopted anti-scab legislation, albeit all too briefly. The NDP government enacted it in 1992 and Mike Harris repealed it immediately upon taking office. Nonetheless, even in that brief period, precipitous declines in work stoppages were evident in Ontario as well.
Clearly, the introduction of anti-scab legislation did not lead to the creation of strike-happy unions run by unreasonable and irrational negotiators. One of the biggest fears of employer organizations has always been that a ban on replacement workers would render unions more militant and difficult at the bargaining table. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any relationship exists between jurisdictions using anti-scab legislation and increased wage demands or settlements. Unions are not interested in negotiating an employer out of business. Economic conditions, rather than the presence of anti-scab laws, are what continue to dictate the tone and content of negotiated agreements.
Where does that leave us? Anti-scab legislation diminishes picket line violence, fosters a fairer balance in the negotiations between employers and employees, reduces the legal proceedings that arise during strikes and lockouts, and mitigates the bitterness felt by employees when they return to work. All of these are benefits to both the workers and the businesses involved in labour disputes. Clearly, it is a win-win.
Why then is the Canadian business community so adamant in its opposition to a ban on replacement workers? It is fundamentally about power and who wields it. That is why the existence of anti-scab laws not only matters to workers and bosses, but also to anyone concerned about the growth of corporate power and its consequences for democracy.
The Conservatives have made their agenda clear. At every step they support their corporate friends at the expense of hard-working Canadians. As recently as their last budget, they chose to give $6 billion in additional corporate tax cuts to their business friends in the most profitable corporations, while at the same time robbing the employment insurance fund of its $57 billion surplus. They know which side they are on.
However, there are more of us than there are of them, both in the House and right across this country. Labour rights and democratic rights are basic human rights, and yet they were not won without a struggle. Without resorting to hyperbole, it is true that people literally gave their lives to secure these rights for those of us who follow.
Now the responsibility falls to us to defend those rights. Each and every one of us in the House has a choice to make. We have to ask ourselves what kind of Canada do we want to leave for our children and our grandchildren? We have to ask ourselves, which side are we on?
So far, each time similar legislation has been before the House, New Democrats and the Bloc supported it unanimously and each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed banning scabs. We all know which side we are on.
So, the spotlight will shine once again on the Liberal members in the House. On all previous occasions that the ban of replacement workers was debated on the floor of the House, the Liberals said all the right things. But when push came to shove and they had to stand up and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.
Although I make no claims of clairvoyance, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership the same will happen again. They will once again allow Bay Street to determine how they will vote and I fear this bill, too, will be defeated.
Canadians deserve better. They deserve a Parliament that is working to represent their interests when public policy decisions are made, and there is nothing more fundamental to those interests than the protection of their basic human rights.
I hope all members in this House will reflect upon this bill in that light and then maybe, just maybe, we will--