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.

Sponsor

Mario Laframboise  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of Dec. 3, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • 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.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

October 19th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

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.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

October 19th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

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 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Richmond
B.C.

Conservative

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 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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

June 11th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I would like to summarize it. Parliamentarians in this House are familiar with this bill as this is not the first time it has been introduced. We continue to hope that the Liberal and Conservative members will understand its importance.

On the one hand, the bill would prohibit employers governed by the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to carry out the duties of striking or locked out employees; on the other hand, it would require employers to maintain essential services. It also sets out fines for violations.

The best way to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of those who are building today's society is to truly respect their rights, starting with eliminating the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout.

Therefore, it is imperative that workers governed by federal legislation have the same rights as those governed by Quebec's labour laws, including the true right to strike. By employees under federal jurisdiction we mean those working in telecommunications, the media, the Internet, banking, ports, marine transportation, bridges, and air and rail transportation.

The Canada Labour Code must be amended and brought into line with the Quebec Labour Code. Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power. That is the objective of Bill C-386.

Unlike in Quebec, which has prohibited replacement workers since 1977, there is currently nothing in the Canada Labour Code that clearly and specifically prohibits the use of replacement workers.

Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but only where an employer uses replacement workers for the purpose of undermining a trade union's representational capacity.

However, a firm prohibition is essential for civilized bargaining to take place during a labour dispute and to promote industrial peace, and is also the cornerstone for establishing an equitable balance of power between employers and employees.

I will give some examples. Quebec workers in industries that are governed by the Canada Labour Code make up about 8% of the Quebec labour force.

According to Quebec's labour department, Quebec workers whose employer is federally regulated are almost always overrepresented in the number of days of work lost because of disputes.

While they account for just under 8% of Quebec's labour force, they experienced 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and 22.6% of the person-days lost in 2003. In fact, a peak was reached in 2002. While 7.3% of Quebec workers were employed in federally regulated organizations, they accounted for 48% of days of work lost because of labour disputes.

In a nutshell, there were, on average, two and a half times more person-days lost in the last decade in labour disputes in Quebec involving workers governed by the Canada Labour Code than those workers represent in demographic weight.

This means that the disputes last longer and are therefore more violent. Such disputes are happening right now in Quebec, just as they have occurred over the past ten years. Consider the dispute at Sécur, or the Vidéotron dispute that lasted over six months and involved acts of sabotage. There was also the dispute at the Cargill grain elevator in Baie-Comeau that ended in 2003 after a three-year lockout imposed by the employer.

Let us not forget Radio Nord and the television networks: TVA, TQS in Abitibi and CBC. We saw this with the Journal de Québec and we are seeing it now with the Journal de Montréal.

From the beginning, the Conservative government has indicated its opposition by hiding behind doom and gloom scenarios because it lacks any real arguments, when the situation is clear in the details I just provided. In the statistics on days of work lost to labour disputes alone, we see that workers under the Canada Labour Code are without work two and a half times longer than workers governed by Quebec labour laws, which prohibit the use of replacement workers.

This is not the first time this type of bill has come before the House. The last time, we introduced Bill C-257, which passed at second reading. At report stage, the Liberals decided to reverse course, saying that the bill did not include measures on essential services. That is why the bill before us today includes the protection of essential services. We are prepared to do our part.

I will try to explain something. We are at a turning point in employer-employee relations. A number of major companies are located in my riding: Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, and Pratt & Whitney to name a few.

I am interested in labour relations. I recently attended a seminar on the sociology of work. The Conservatives, and even the Liberals, are not aware of the change taking place in our society. The new generations do not look at work the same way we do. I am part of the baby boom generation. Those who came before me are part of what sociologists call the veteran generation. After me come generations X and Y. Baby boomers like me, and the veterans who came before me—my father—have lived to work, while generations X and Y work to live. It is completely different. Who is right? Did we take our work too seriously? Perhaps we were afraid to lose our jobs because there were so many of us. Now, the young generations no longer have this mindset about work. They think more about their family. They think more and more about balancing work and family. I would add that employers who do not understand that will simply not survive. In other words, they will not be able to find employees to work for them.

I realize that the Conservatives and Liberals will always be regressive when it comes to replacement worker legislation. However, it is not helpful if we allow employers to use scabs or replacement workers to avoid resolving a conflict. We will see more and more businesses under federal jurisdiction having a hard time finding employees. We already see that in the interprovincial ground transportation sector. Employers have a very hard time recruiting employees, and the average age is very high. It is not very well known, but there is currently a shortage of airplane pilots. The new generation does not like the schedules and working conditions in the airline industry. That is a reality we will have to face. Banks are also having a hard time recruiting employees. You need only visit a branch to see how many retirees have been brought back on contract, because the banks could not fill their positions. The new generations want work environments that encourage personal development.

If we allow a business to use replacement workers during a conflict, and if there are lockouts, and jobs are lost in an economic sector for two, three or four years—that is not uncommon—there will be no new employees coming into businesses of that kind.

That is what is in store for companies under federal jurisdiction. It would be nice to keep managing as though people were all still veterans and baby boomers, but companies need to be careful because generations X and Y see work in a whole new way.

Here in the House of Commons, we have to be visionaries. It is time to make companies, particularly those in sectors under federal jurisdiction, understand that they cannot use replacement workers to avoid conflict resolution. The time has also come to add essential services. Businesses in certain sectors provide services to all communities. Those services should therefore be considered essential and even mandatory in some cases.

The Bloc Québécois has always been against forcing people to stay on the job and always will be, but it is important to negotiate essential services and maintain certain services. When disputes arise, it is important for employees to have the right to strike so they can make the employer understand that things are not working. That is the best way to move labour relations forward.

Over the past few months and the past year, a forestry company in my riding, the Fraser company in Thurso, placed itself under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act because it did not have a recovery plan and had decided to sell the company.

I have been a member of the House since 2000. In my own way, I advised the president of the company union, who is a childhood friend. Every time he negotiated an agreement—there have been four since 2000—he asked me what I thought of the situation. I always advised him to the extent of my knowledge, but I am not clairvoyant.

I looked at what was happening at the Conference Board and at Statistics Canada in terms of employers' offers. I talked to him about it, and it was all very nice. Often, after the negotiations, I found that much of the advice I had given him had found its way into the final agreements.

This past year was a terrible one for the employees. Just prior to June of last year, they found out that their company was closing.

My friend called me again to tell me that it seemed to be over and to ask what I thought. I told him that “it ain't over 'til it's over.” Good old Piton Ruel of the Montreal Canadiens used to say that. The same can be said of an exercise that decides the fate of an industry.

The only advice I gave him was to approach the employer about renegotiating working conditions, in case the company were to start up again.

It is not easy for employees and an employer to talk together. It is easier when you know you will keep your job, but when you have already lost your job and no one knows if the company will survive, that makes it hard.

Believe it or not, they negotiated new terms for working conditions in the three or four months following the closure, even though the company was not in production mode. It was difficult. Salaries were reduced by 20% and retirement eligibility was moved from age 55 to 65, but it meant that the company was able to start up again. The company's buyer had no say in the working conditions that had been negotiated by the employer's representatives and the employees while the company was closed. That meant that the company could start up again.

If this company had been under federal jurisdiction and a lock-out had been imposed, these employees would have been laid off for three or four years and the union and employer would never have been able to start negotiations. The tension would have been so bad that they would have wanted the company to close because of the lay-offs.

Once again, I am asking my colleagues to vote in favour of this bill, which is a new way of looking at labour relations.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

June 11th, 2010 / 2 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to join members today in this debate regarding the provisions of Bill C-386. This proposed legislation calls for significant changes to key sections of the Canada Labour Code. If passed, it would prohibit federal employees from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or in a lock-out situation.

This initiative, tabled by my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, is the most recent in a long line of attempts to use this kind of legislation as a means of rewriting the rules on what can happen during a work stoppage. As members know, this House has debated similar bills and motions on this very issue countless times. Indeed, I have come to understand that there have been 14 such proposals just since the year 2000, and not one of these bills has been supported by Parliament. What we should be learning from the experience is that this is not in fact the right way to address labour relations and it is not an effective way of preventing work stoppages.

Our government's position on Bill C-386 is very clear. Workers, unions and businesses all deserve more than this piecemeal approach as would be prescribed by this bill. Instead we need to stick with an approach that leads to a positive result for everyone, each of the workplace parties. It is an approach based on the prevention of work stoppages, first of all, but also in terms of consultation and compromise between the parties.

The drafters and supporters of this bill in any of its earlier manifestations 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.

Even in the spirit of labour relations today, it is very different from what we saw and certainly what the province of Quebec saw in the 1970s. Consider, for example, the success rate that we have achieved at the federal level. Over 97% of labour disputes were resolved last year without strikes or lockouts. Even in the rare cases that do result in a work stoppage, federal employers tend not to use external replacement workers.

The numbers speak the truth. The approach we have in place now is working very well. The Government of Canada's approach to maintaining good labour relations is based on getting at the root of disputes. The accent is on preventing work stoppages from ever happening in the first place.

That is one of the key reasons that in 2008 we commissioned a study conducted by an industrial relations expert, Peter Annis, on the causes and effects of work stoppages in the federally regulated private sector. His report was tabled about a year ago. Among his findings, Mr. Annis found that there is no conclusive empirical evidence, none, to support the idea that banning replacement workers would lead to a decrease in the incidence of work stoppages or the number of person days not worked. His findings are supported by a number of other independent academic studies.

Instead, Mr. Annis maintained that what we really need to be doing is focusing on prevention mediation. We need to find ways for all sides to work together in a spirit of co-operation through the life of the collective agreement. I am sure all members would agree that this would be an entirely preferable arrangement.

It is not enough for both sides to address an issue once every three or four years, or each time a collective agreement finishes during collective bargaining. That is how people become disengaged from each other, and disputes become more difficult to resolve quickly and thoroughly. Things become much more difficult.

I would like to share something Mr. Annis said in regard to the subject at hand, because it is an important insight for us all to consider. He said that if one diminishes the adversarial nature of the relationship and gets the stakeholders into problem solving and they see the collective agreement not as a contract to be fought over and enforced tooth and nail, but rather as a living snapshot of the relationship that they have to work on throughout the whole period, it will bring down the number of work stoppages.

It is absolutely clear that this is the preferable approach and the one that the Government of Canada supports wholeheartedly.

Our government agrees with this assessment. When we can find ways to engage both sides on an ongoing basis, we will be able to get to the root causes of labour disputes. Parties will indeed be better equipped to work out their differences. When they both have a stake in maintaining positive relations, relationships that are adversarial will become, instead, constructive. Where there is a collaborative relationship, there is an incentive to avoid work stoppages.

Do the provisions in Bill C-386 seek to engage parties in a positive, constructive manner? Do they encourage the parties to build long-term relationships based on trust and mutual respect? I would say that the simple answer is no, they do not. If anything, they do the opposite.

We need to avoid driving the two sides apart with such divisive tactics. Instead, we need to focus on supporting innovative government policies that prevent conflict and enhance labour-management relationships in the long term.

Good labour relations are about sustaining a balance. We know that to be true. It is not about taking sides. It is about being fair and giving both sides an incentive to work together. That is what Canada achieved when it amended the Canada Labour Code in 1999. The code's current replacement worker provision is an approach that provides an important balance between the needs of workers and those of their employers. It was the outcome of hard work and hard-fought debates.

The amendments followed after a lengthy and extensive review process involving broad-based consultations with client groups. It may not be a perfect solution, but it is one that has struck a balance, one that has been achieved through dialogue, co-operation and compromise.

That is where I would say the focus of the House as it relates to Bill C-386 should remain. It should not remain on debating one legislative attempt after another, each seeking to ban replacement workers without consultation, without compromise and without balance.

It is for these reasons that I remain opposed to Bill C-386. I call on all members of the House to vote against these provisions becoming law.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

June 11th, 2010 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). As the labour critic for my party, I will not be supporting this bill, and in my remarks I will lay out some of my concerns.

Under the current Canada Labour Code there is no general ban on the use of replacement workers. This bill proposes to amend the code so there would be a ban. As my colleague from across the aisle has just noted, the House has considered this type of bill, and motions as well, a number of times over the past decade and they have all failed to pass.

The Canada Labour Code was last revamped in 1999 as a result of recommendations in the Sims report. Most of the issues were agreed on by the stakeholders who had been consulted in the course of the study by the Sims task force.

The controversial measure around replacement workers was not fully agreed on by the stakeholders at that time. However, the task force did recommend that there be no general prohibition on the use of replacement workers after consulting and giving due consideration to the issue. I will quote a recommendation in the task force report:

Replacement workers can be necessary to sustain the economic viability of an enterprise in the face of a harsh economic climate and unacceptable union demands. It is important in a system of free collective bargaining that employers maintain that option, unrestrained by any blanket prohibition. If this option is removed, employers will begin to structure themselves to reduce their reliance on their permanent workforces for fear of vulnerability, to the detriment of both workers and employers alike.

The Liberal government of the day accepted the recommendations of the Sims task force, and the blanket provisions that some of the stakeholders were looking for on the use of replacement workers were not included in the Canada Labour Code at that time.

The business sector believes that since the changes to the code were made, there has been little controversy over the use of replacement workers in the federal sector, but other stakeholders would disagree with that comment.

Where are we today? There are arguments on both sides of this issue. Some would argue that it is an unfair labour practice for employers to use replacement workers in an attempt to undermine a union's representational capacity, for example, to attempt to break a union.

I think all members of the House would agree that unions serve an important function in their representation of workers in collective bargaining with respect to benefits and health and safety conditions.

On the other side of the argument, some have argued that while a union has the absolute right to strike, an employer also has the right to continue to operate and customers have the right to service. This is a very polarized argument.

It is clear that some provinces have been successful with respect to both sides of this issue. Some of my colleagues have talked about the ban on replacement workers in Quebec. There is also a ban on replacement workers in British Columbia, and that was put in place by an NDP government in the 1990s. When the B.C. Liberal government took office in 2001 it was widely expected that it would amend the labour code in British Columbia to remove the ban on replacement workers, but it chose not to do that.

As a proud British Columbian and as a former member of the government of that day, I would note that British Columbia went from having the slowest growing economy in Canada in 2000 to having the fastest growing economy a few years later, still with the ban on replacement workers in place.

There is no evidence that one way is right and another way is wrong. In fact, several provinces with NDP governments have maintained the aspect of their labour codes that allows replacement workers. In a way, this is not even an ideological divide.

The example of Quebec shows that the number of days lost to work stoppage is not substantially higher than the average number lost under the Canada Labour Code. In terms of a severe impact from having a ban versus not having a ban, I would contend that we do not see that.

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 one side of a historically polarized issue in the absence of a clear crisis that demands immediate action.

I would further assert that we face some serious challenges in the future, we being Canadians, in the broader context within which we need to look at labour relations and our approach to labour relations. Is the historic polarity between organizations representing labour and those representing the private sector on this issue the framework within which we want to make decisions for the future?

Do we want to maintain that polarity and weigh in on one side or another, or do we want to find a place away from that dichotomy, a place where employers and employees work together with the co-operation and co-ordination of their representatives to address larger external threats to the quality of life and the well-being of Canadians? That is exactly what I believe needs to happen.

What are some of the serious challenges? As I have said, I do not believe that this is useful legislation to help achieve the objective of improving people's lives. Some of the challenges include the re-entry into major deficit into which the Conservative government has placed Canada. There is the mounting debt we are facing.

At the same time, we have the demographic of an aging population such that there will be relatively fewer people in the workforce a generation from now. Perhaps two in ten Canadians will be in the workforce. There will be far more people aged 65 and over than there are today, along with the related costs for health care and other services. That is the challenge facing Canada that we cannot ignore, though the government seems to be doing that.

Some would assert that four in ten Canadians are challenged in their ability to be successful in their jobs because of illiteracy. We need to increase Canadian productivity and better match people with jobs, because we are faced with a million Canadians who are out of work and a million jobs for which there are not skilled people.

In the future, when there are fewer people of working age, we will need higher productivity. To be competitive, we need to be working together to face the challenges of the major economies of the Asia-Pacific and their success and growth.

We need a new economy that is based on green jobs. As we change the way we use energy, we increase our efficiency. We need to be thinking about all those kinds of technological innovations that underpin the transformation of our economy.

Does this legislation address any of those problems and help to solve them? I would say that it does not. We need employees and employers working together. We need governments working with employees and employers, finding the successes, building on them, and then addressing the huge challenges we face in the future.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

June 11th, 2010 / 2:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

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--

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

June 11th, 2010 / 2:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

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

December 3rd, 2009 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I am also pleased to be seconded by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who worked very hard in the previous Parliament to have a similar bill passed. I would like to quickly read the summary of Bill C-386.

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.

The bill would ensure that all workers who are fortunate enough to work in Quebec are subject to the same legislation, since replacement workers are prohibited in Quebec. I would like to provide a quick background on anti-scab legislation.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of all those who contribute to Quebec society on a daily basis is to show true respect for their rights, by preventing the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout. Therefore, it is imperative that workers governed by federal labour legislation have the same rights as those governed by Quebec legislation, including a true right to strike.

The Canada Labour Code should be amended and brought into line with the Quebec labour code, so as to ban the use of replacement workers, or scabs, once and for all. 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 objective of Bill C-386, which would prohibit the hiring of replacement workers.

Unlike in Quebec, which has prohibited replacement workers since 1977, there is currently nothing in the Canada Labour Code that clearly and specifically prohibits the use of replacement workers.

Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but only where an employer uses replacement workers for the purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity. That prohibition is very weak, because to be entitled to use replacement workers, an employer need only continue to recognize the union in place and continue bargaining to demonstrate its good faith. As we see, it is very easy for employers to have access to replacement workers.

A firm prohibition, which is what Bill C-386 proposes, is essential, however, for civilized bargaining to take place during a labour dispute and to promote industrial peace, and is also the cornerstone for establishing an equitable balance of power between employers and employees.

Workers in industries that are governed by the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications—workers in Internet businesses, cable companies and cell phone companies—and banks, ports, bridges, airports or Canada Post, who make up about 8% of the Quebec labour force, are therefore at a disadvantage when they have to bargain with their employer, and as a result they get dragged into longer strikes.

According to figures from the Quebec Ministère du Travail, for instance, Quebec workers whose employer is federally regulated are practically always overrepresented in the number of days of work lost. While they account for just under 8% of Quebec’s labour force, they experienced 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and 22.6% of the person-days lost in 2003. In fact, a peak was reached in 2002. While 7.3% of Quebec workers were employed in federally regulated organizations, they accounted for 48% of days of work lost because of labour disputes.

In a nutshell, there were, on average, two and a half times more person-days lost in the last decade in labour disputes in Quebec involving workers governed by the Canada Labour Code than those workers represent in demographic weight. Obviously, this translates into longer and more violent disputes when the employer is able to hire strikebreakers.

Remember the three-month dispute at Sécur, the Vidéotron dispute that lasted over 10 months and involved acts of sabotage, and the dispute at the Cargill grain elevator in Baie-Comeau that ended in 2003 after a three-year lockout. And let us not forget the unionized workers at Radio-Nord Communications, employees of the three Abitibi television stations, TVA, TQS and Radio-Canada, and the two radio stations in northwestern Quebec, who were on strike for over 20 months.

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.

In spite of Conservative opposition, the Bloc Québécois was able to have Bill C-257 passed on second reading, and got it as far as the report stage. That was the first time an anti-strikebreaker bill had made it that far. The Liberals, who had supported the bill in principle on second reading, ultimately did an about-face and said the bill would not have guaranteed that essential services would be maintained.

The Canada Labour Code already includes provisions that require both the employer and unionized employees to continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. The Conservative government, and now the Liberal Party, have done their best to ignore these provisions.

In the March 21, 2007, vote on Bill C-257, during the last Parliament, the Conservatives and the Liberals, with the exception of some Liberal members from Quebec, joined forces to defeat the bill by a vote of 177 to 122. It is important to remember that this Minister of Labour, the same one who fiercely condemned the Bloc Québécois bill and made all kinds of irrational arguments, supported a bill to prohibit replacement workers in 1990. The Liberals tried to avoid completely losing face by introducing a bill similar to the one drafted by the Bloc Québécois. There was not enough time to vote on that bill before the election was called.

I want everyone to understand that we are making a direct connection between the Conservatives' opposition to anti-scab legislation and special bills because the right to negotiate is a basic right. However, Quebeckers also believe that the right to balanced bargaining power is a basic right.

I am pleased to be discussing Bill C-386 here in the House. The Speaker recently received a letter dated December 1 from the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications. This association, Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, wrote to the Speaker. It is worth hearing what they had to say. The association wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons to recommend that he vote against Bill C-386. This is a group of employers under federal jurisdiction. Apparently, it is an organization that strongly opposes the rights currently in force in Quebec. I will list some of the members: Air Canada, WestJet, VIA Rail, Canada Post, Fedex, Iron Ore, NAV CANADA, Purolator, Telus, Canadian Pacific, the Airports Association and Bell Canada.

The association does not include banks, which have employees under federal jurisdiction, but they have their own association. It is very interesting to read what the association wrote to the Speaker of the House to convince him to vote against the bill. I will read it in English.

They believe it is bad public policy because it would shift the balance of power in collective bargaining overwhelmingly in favour of the unions.

That is like saying that it is the employers who hold the power right now, and if this bill were ever introduced, it would shift the power to unions. This is despite the fact that the bill has evolved. Essential services have been added. Despite the fact that this works very well in Quebec, there is always this direct opposition from employers. This is important.

They thought it would be good to form an association, the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, to address this. Their letter indicates that 14 anti-scab bills have been introduced since 2000, and they are quite proud that none of those bills has passed.

In the end, they always win. It is clear in their correspondence, and in 1977 Quebec passed anti-scab legislation to ensure some degree of balance.

So employers form an association and send letters to say that if this ever changes, the unions will have all the power. This means that right now, it is the employers that have all the power. But anti-scab legislation, legislation that would prohibit replacement workers and ensure that essential services would be maintained, is a form of balance. This has definitely been proven in Quebec. Once again, it is a difficult situation. When 92% of unionized employees in a nation like Quebec are covered by anti-scab legislation, and the other 8% fall under the Canada Labour Code and do not have the same ability to negotiate or enjoy the same labour relations, this creates a clear imbalance.

Earlier I gave some examples of labour disputes that have occurred, of delays in negotiations, and the use of scabs to allow the work to continue and allow the business to operate as it did before without having to use the employees. Of course, this only fuels the debates.

This often provokes nasty situations. Indeed, people are very unhappy when no progress is being made in negotiations. The employer continues to count on replacement workers to carry on its operations. At this time, in any civilized employer-employee relationship, anti-scab legislation with the maintenance of essential services is necessary. This is what we are proposing in the bill I am introducing here today in my name and on behalf of the Bloc.

We are not engaging in these debates and making these proposals without support. There is a real consensus in the union movement to support this anti-scab bill. This legislation is supported by the Canadian Labour Congress; the Fédération des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec; the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN); the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); the Public Service Alliance of Canada; the Brotherhoods of Locomotive Engineers of Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Alberta; the Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d'Hydro-Québec; the Ontario Teachers' Federation; the Congress of Union Retirees Canada; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; the Manitoba Federation of Labour; and the Graphic Communications International Union.

We have support to offset the Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications, this association of federally regulated employers that has formed and is sending letters to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is only natural that there should be a balance. As the letter I read earlier said, things are currently weighted in favour of the employers. It is only natural that unionized workers should want a better balance. That is why Bill C-386 is the answer. It prohibits replacement workers and maintains essential services.

I call on all the members of this House to support Bill C-386.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 3rd, 2009 / 6 p.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, there is no question that this is a private member's bill.

I would like to remind the member that the Canada Labour Code was amended and it was a compromise between the interests of unions and the interests of employers.

In fact, when the Sims Commission came to that balance, it retained the right to engage in legal strikes for the employees and the employers were able to use replacement workers temporarily during a strike. Striking employees were entitled to get their jobs back after the strike and the employers were prohibited from using replacement workers to undermine the union. It was a type of balance that needed to be preserved.

This bill proposes to make significant changes to the Canada Labour Code. If it were to pass, it would ban the right of federal employees to use replacement workers during a labour stoppage. It is looking just at that particular aspect of the Canada Labour Code without regard to all of the other aspects that were used in arriving at the balance.

Our government's position on Bill C-386 is very clear. It is bad for labour relations. It is bad for our economy. It is bad for Canada.

Consider the risk that the bill poses to our economy today. Notwithstanding the positive signs of economic recovery, these are still times of uncertainty. We need to be doing everything we can to demonstrate and reaffirm that Canada is a great place to work and also to do business.

That is the spirit behind Canada's economic action plan. We have shown all Canadians that our government is determined to take whatever steps are necessary to help citizens and Canadian businesses overcome the latest economic crisis.

Canada has done and continues to do a good job of weathering the economic storm and that is thanks to our highly educated, skilled, largely mobile modern workforce. It is also thanks to the strength of our banking system, the soundness of our nation's fiscal position, and our enviable record of low and stable inflation.

Let me take a moment to talk about the first key factor, our labour force, our workforce. Our government is investing wisely in Canada's workforce and that includes fostering good labour relations. We do this so Canadian workers and businesses can be competitive and strong in today's economy, and well into the future.

Bill C-386 stands in the way of our progress and the progress that we are making. Where we have worked hard to bolster confidence, the provisions in the bill would heighten uncertainty. Where we have invested wisely in the Canadian workforce, Bill C-386 would undermine the sense of balance that has helped build and sustain good labour relations in this country over several years.

Bill C-386 would result in wholesale changes to our federal labour law in Canada without consultation, without compromise, and without consideration for the fact that existing provisions work well.

Part I of the Canada Labour Code was enacted in 1999. This achieved an important balance, as I said at the outset, between the needs of workers and the needs of employers. This was the outcome of hard work and hard fought debates and compromise. These amendments followed after a lengthy and extensive review process involving wide ranging consultations with client groups. They also followed in the wake of an in-depth study by an independent task force of industrial relations experts. That is the context under which the compromise was made and the amendments made to the Canada Labour Code.

Back in 1999, just like today, the issue of replacement workers was highly divisive. Labour and management representatives held divergent views and were unable to reach a consensus, but a solution was found and it was in the form of a compromise.

As a result of amendments that were made to the Canada Labour Code, the use of replacement workers is not generally prohibited. However, the use of such workers for the purpose of undermining a union's representational capacity, including the pursuit of legitimate bargaining objectives, is prohibited and constitutes an unfair labour practice.

The majority of parties who engage in collective bargaining under the Canada Labour Code accepted this approach as a reasonable compromise. It did not give one side everything it wanted. Instead, through compromise there was balance and good labour relations benefited as a result. Canada benefited and our economy benefited. Those gains are all put at risk by Bill C-386.

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.

This is not the first time that this matter has been debated in the House in recent years. The total number of legislative initiatives over the last two decades are too numerous to count. In my term in the House, numerous bills and motions have come in the same respect and with the same regard as this particular bill, but all of these attempts were eventually defeated. Why? Because a majority of members of the House recognized in every instance that attempts to legislate a ban on the use of replacement workers would be inherently harmful to labour relations and the economic health of Canada.

A common characteristic shared by some of the more recent legislative efforts is that they do not fully consider just how vital it is that a middle ground be maintained between unions and employers in the matter of replacement workers. It is a very important and delicate balance and a balance that must be maintained.

Bill C-386 defies well established facts about replacement worker legislation. First of all, 97%, and that is a high amount, of all collective bargaining disputes in the federal sector were settled last year without resorting to a strike or a lockout, often with the assistance of government-appointed mediators and conciliation officers.

Second, most federally regulated employers do not hire external replacement workers during a work stoppage. In the majority of cases, even when a dispute could not be avoided through good labour relations, employers reassigned management and other non-bargaining personnel to keep their operations functioning.

Third, several independent studies on the impact of replacement workers concluded that there is no empirical evidence to support the idea that banning replacement workers would lead to a decrease in the incidence of work stoppages and the number of person-days not worked.

In conclusion, it is important we recognize that a legislative proposal calling for the wholesale change to labour law in Canada poses a threat to the compromise that has been achieved and sustained between labour and employers in Canada. This proposal risks making our economy seem less stable and secure. It would create doubt when we need to reaffirm confidence. It would make it harder for all of us to focus on protecting and creating jobs. Just as important, it would undermine the balance achieved in labour relations.

As with each previous legislative attempt introduced in the House, Bill C-386 calls for amendments that would ultimately harm workers and undermine the labour peace that both sides have enjoyed for years. For that reason alone the bill should be opposed and defeated. There are a number of good reasons it should not go forward. It certainly should not go forward in the context of a private member's bill, particularly when there have been extensive hearings, extensive discussions, give and take on both sides, and a compromise that has been reached, a compromise that works, a compromise that has seen 97% of work disruptions settled and contracts negotiated, a good record.

When we find other jurisdictions that have used this type of legislation they have not reduced the amount of work stoppages. They have not seen a reduction in the number of strikes. In fact, it has been more litigious. There have been more applications to the Canada Labour Relations Board or to a like board. So when we look at the big picture, we do not need to disrupt what already works. The bill should be defeated. All members of the House should be encouraged to work against it and should vote against it to see that it does not become law.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 3rd, 2009 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to discuss Bill C-386 again tonight. I say “again” because, as members know, there have been 14 private members' bills and motions on this subject in the last 10 years alone. I supported many of those bills in the past, even though I thought at the time that there were shortcomings with the bills because of the concept or the idea.

However, I think it is important that we look at the history of this particular issue. The Sims report in 1999 reviewed part I of the Canada Labour Code. Most items at that time were agreed upon, except for the replacement workers, between the union and the employers. This was an area that they were not able to come to consensus on. I think we all know that, and it has been discussed in this House for some time.

It is important to note that under the current labour code there is no general ban on replacement workers. However, they cannot be used to break a union. This is an important thing to note.

There is always an attempt to create an important balance in the collective bargaining process. This is what the labour code tried to achieve at the time, but as I said, there was one area on which there was not agreement.

B.C. and Quebec have replacement worker bans. Maybe we need to start looking at some of these other examples that we have around the country.

In Quebec, for instance, the average work stoppage, according to the data that I have been looking at, was 43.8 days between 2005 and 2007. This is an area in which there is a great deal of debate as to the impact of this type of legislation, with respect to work stoppage. These are some of the figures.

Under the Canada Labour Code, the average stoppage was 41 days. As we can see, there is not a great deal of difference between the two.

In Quebec, there were 25 complaints to the Labour Relations Board regarding unfair use of replacement workers. Of those 25 complaints, 10 were upheld. Again this is another area that people raise as an area of contention. Since 1999, under the Canada Labour Code, there have been 23 complaints. None were upheld and one is still pending. So again, the numbers are really quite comparable. There is not a whole lot of difference between one or the other in terms of the arguments that one system would cause more of a burden than the other.

Under the proposed legislation, managers and directors could still be used as replacement workers. I think that has been made very clear in the bill. However, other replacement workers cannot be brought in. For instance, I think CN would have been eligible to bring in retired workers or retired engineers. I do not think that would be allowed under this legislation.

The arguments for and against this legislation have been made for quite some time. I just want to remind members of some of these arguments because I think they are important to note, and then I am going to talk about a couple of other specific things.

One argument against banning replacement workers made by people who do not support this is that there is a possibility of more strikes, that this would create more strikes in the system. This has not happened in Quebec. I know we have looked at that, and I have looked at it, and that does not seem to be the outcome of this type of direction.

Another argument is that it will upset the balance in collective bargaining, giving more power to the unions. Again, I do not know that it would necessarily be the case, but that is an argument that is made by many people.

Another is that it does not allow for an employer to continue operating his or her business during the strike. Again, I do not think that is case. Of course, the bill does mention that management would be allowed to replace workers, but of course, as I said, other workers cannot be brought in.

One argument also is that services that do not necessarily have an immediate threat to the health and safety of the public but have economic consequences could not function.

This model is quite different from the Quebec one in that it is true that if one looks at the function of telecommunications, transportation, and so on, they could be deemed essential services, but not for the purpose of health and safety necessarily. I do not think that CN, in the most recent strike, would have fallen under that category.

The arguments for banning replacement workers, made by those who support it, will talk about the fact that unions argue that it would encourage employers to bargain fairly, that by having this legislation, employers would be more likely to bargain fairly at the table rather than unfairly, as I guess is assumed to be the case right now.

These are some of the arguments that go against this type of legislation, which has been coming back to the House for quite some time. I think it is important for us to look at the one point that seems to come up over and over again. It seems to be the one that creates very strong differences of opinion on one side or the other, and that is the issue of essential services.

Under the current labour code, the definition of essential services is very limited. It is limited to immediate threats to public health and safety. That is quite restrictive. It is not as broad as what we have seen in Quebec. I will come back to that again in a little while. It is restricted to immediate threats to public health and safety. This is the definition in the Canada Labour Code.

During the OC Transpo strike here in Ottawa, for instance, it was not deemed a threat to health and safety; therefore, that strike, as we recall, went on for quite some time. Under the labour code, it was not deemed to be a threat to health and safety, therefore the strike went on for quite some time and there was no intervention on that.

The CN strike that we just averted or came out of recently in the last day would not have qualified for it either. It would not have been deemed a situation that posed an immediate risk to health and safety. Therefore, the strike got started and was going on, and again, in that instance, it would not have affected that.

In Quebec, the definition of essential services, which is where we come to the nub of all this debate, is quite broader. That changes the debate and the discussion altogether. This is very important to note, because if we ever come to some conclusion on this type of legislation in the House, we need to grapple with this particular issue in terms of the definition and then how we apply it and how it is structured.

As I said, in Quebec, this is very different. The definition of essential services is broader, but they also have an establishment called the Essential Services Council. I believe that is part of the legislation in Quebec. In this case, the employer and the union both come before the council if there is a strike. They both need to appear in front of the council if they have reached an impasse, as we have seen in other cases. The employer will state its case, that it is an essential service and that it cannot function without a certain number of employees without causing undue hardship, or something to that effect. The union then either states that it is not an essential service and tries to make that argument, or if it is and it agrees with that, it indicates how many employees it would need to provide that service. They both make a representation to the council. This is a very formal thing.

The council then makes a ruling on whether the service is essential and the number of employees who must work. They make that decision. So this is a very important thing.

It is not a threat or danger to the public, but rather, an economic issue. So it is broader. The issue is not just health and safety but also includes an economic issue in this case. An economic argument can also be made.

If the replacement worker ban were implemented in Canada, we would need a similar framework. I think we need to look at the way it has worked in Quebec. After 14 times in 10 years, the issue is not going away. Now is the time to work together to try to reach a consensus, and I think we need to do that. I would suggest that we come together in the House and try to have a discussion around some of that and see if we can come to some consensus.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 3rd, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's debate on the anti-scab legislation brought forward by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

As members here will know, I introduced a similar bill, Bill C-337, even earlier in this Parliament than the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that assigns our days for debate means we are debating Bill C-386 first, and I am good with that. In spite of the huge egos that some members bring to the House, it is not all about us. In fact, it should not be about us at all. We are sent here to represent the views and aspirations of our constituents and to protect their interests, not ours. Therefore, I do not care who brings forward solid pieces of public policy, I will stand in my place and proudly support them.

This, as has been said before, is not the first time we have debated anti-scab legislation in the House. Each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed the ban on replacement workers and the NDP and the Bloc supported it. Each time, the Liberals said all the right things, but when push came to shove and they had to stand and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.

Although I make no claims to be clairvoyant, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership, the Liberals will once again allow Bay Street to determine their vote and this bill too will be defeated. However, that does not mean it is not worth fighting for. In fact, it is now more crucial than ever.

Just this past Monday, we debated a motion related to back to work legislation. I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of a level playing field to the success of collective bargaining. I will not repeat the arguments here because I only have 10 minutes in today's debate. Suffice it to say that 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. The largest single cause of injuries on a picket line is the use of scab labour.

In Ontario we had a brief period of time when the NDP outlawed scab labour. The benefit of that legislation is beyond dispute. During the time that the ban on replacement workers was in effect, the strikes and lockouts were shorter. That benefited both workers and employers, but sadly, Mike Harris, who never let good public policy stand in the way of ideological politics, repealed the legislation as soon as he came to power. I guess that should be expected because it is also successive Conservative and Liberal governments that sold out our country to foreign businesses and allowed their culture of labour relations to flourish here.

Let me tell members how the American business model has impacted my hometown of Hamilton. In the last 20 years, we had watched business after business, representing thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs, be sold off to American corporations, only to shut their doors within months. They send in new plant managers and CEOs who have no personal stake in my community, do not bring their families to live among us and approach their new roles in the manner of colonial overlords. They do not want to be here and cannot wait to go home.

They reap huge individual bounty for short-term assignments and leave hundreds of devastated lives in their wake. They ignore the workplace culture and challenge the laws of the land. They defy the unions to take them on and even when they lose their challenges before the OLRB or the WSIB or the MOL, these employers continue to ignore the decisions to the brink of enforcement.

They even find ways around legislative protection for the disabled. They enter into agreements with the government of the day in bad faith, knowing that the deals are weak and likely unenforceable. They have closed plants and transferred standing product orders to U.S. facilities. They have locked workers out for no other reason than to take advantage of the current economic distress, thumbing their very noses at Canadian labour laws.

At the former Stelco plant, previously known as Hilton Works, U.S. Steel idled the blast furnace and curtailed production barely a year after acquisition. It forced hundreds to retire who were not, under normal circumstances, prepared to do so. It has recalled the remainder only so as to avoid severance payments while simultaneously locking out the workers at Lake Erie Works.

That is the new culture in the workplace, not just in Hamilton but at Vale Inco at Sudbury, at ECP at Brantford, and at countless other companies right across the country. Companies come into our country and tell Canadian workers that they want and need to change the culture of the workplace.

Let me remind members what that culture looked like in Canada. It was a culture in which workers had dignity, where workers were treated with respect, where workers were able to earn wages that provided a decent standard of living for them and their families. It was a culture where workers were able to bargain at the negotiating table with their employers for things like pensions and health benefits for their families. That is the culture we had in our country, a culture where workers could go to work in the morning and come home safely in the evening because we had health and safety standards in this country.

Was it a perfect world? No. There was plenty of room for improvement. New Democrats have been fighting for that at every possible opportunity. However, it was a far cry from what we see now, where companies come in and tell workers, “You are no longer able to expect to receive the very things that you have negotiated after decades and decades of bargaining. Not only can you not expect that any more, but we will put you on a picket line and we will have other workers come in and do your jobs until we break the backs of you and your union brothers and sisters”.

By failing to protect workers from these predatory employers, we are complicit in their corporate agendas. I, for one, refuse to play any part in that. Along with my NDP colleagues, I will fight that agenda every step of the way so workers have the protection of Canadian laws and we as legislators live up to the commitments we have made as signatories to UN and ILO conventions.

It is not just unionized workers who have a stake in this fight. Every Canadian does. In fact, it makes no sense that anyone would want to be a scab. In the end, those people are only hurting themselves.

In the type of economy that we have developed, where there are more and more unemployed and where people are earning lower and lower wages, sometimes family heads, women or men, feel compelled to take any job at any price. Although at first blush that is understandable, it is ultimately shortsighted.

The effect of scabbing, especially now when the theme in labour relations by the corporate world is to end defined benefit pension plans, when the agenda of the corporate world is to reduce wages and when the agenda is to reduce workforces, scabs simply join with that agenda. They endorse it, they support it, they advocate for it and they make that agenda possible.

In the end, they lose along with every other Canadian worker. It is no wonder that the very notion of a scab evokes such strong responses. Let me read just one quote:

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

No man or woman has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in or a rope long enough to hang his body with.

Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army. The scab sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to this country; a scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

That is what Jack London had to say back in 1905. More than a century has gone by, but many of the thoughts behind that quote are still as relevant today as they were then.

By voting for the anti-scab legislation before us today, I am voting for my country, my family and my class. I urge all members to join me in taking that stand.