Bill C-395 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute)
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.
Guy André Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
- June 9, 2010 Passed That Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
- Nov. 18, 2009 Passed 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.
Employment Insurance Act
November 26th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.
Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-467, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (labour dispute).
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to introduce a bill that addresses an important shortcoming in the Employment Insurance Act. If a business closes following a labour dispute, workers who are laid off and thrown out into the street need to be able to count on employment insurance benefits.
This is 2012. Employees are still being denied employment insurance benefits when a company closes its doors following a prolonged lockout. That is unacceptable.
This problem has to be fixed. That is why I am introducing a bill today to fix it. Workers should not be punished because the method for determining employment insurance eligibility is not suited to their specific circumstances: job loss following a prolonged labour dispute.
The solution is simple: extend the qualifying period for employment insurance eligibility by adding the duration of the labour dispute. That would ensure that Quebeckers who are suffering because of this unfair situation receive the support they need.
This is the second time the Bloc Québécois has introduced this bill. Bill C-395, introduced on May 26, 2009, died on the order paper at third reading.
I hope that all members will realize that they have to support this Bloc Québécois bill in order to help these men and women who were abandoned by the federal government.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization Act
December 13th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to be speaking about Bill C-43, An Act to enact the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Labour Relations Modernization Act and to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports this bill. The Bloc will be pleased to discuss and debate this bill in committee with its usual thoroughness.
The Bloc believes that unionization of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers would lead to more harmonious and fairer labour relations. In addition, it is useful to remember that the Conservatives introduced this bill following an Ontario Provincial Court decision, which was appealed by the government three times.
In April 2009, Justice Ian MacDonnell of the Ontario Superior Court extended the right to unionize to the 22,000 officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The judge ruled that the federal law governing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which prohibits unionization, is unconstitutional. However, police cannot strike because the Canadian Police Association gave up that right.
This decision put an end to a century-old tradition of RCMP management believing that unionization would hurt the officers' morale. This is not the first time that RCMP officers have requested the right to unionize. In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada threw out the case of Gaétan Delisle, a former officer who invoked the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to allow RCMP members to unionize.
This bill introduces human resources management processes for grievance procedures, disciplinary measures and the review of conditions of employment. It also gives the commissioner authorities similar to those given to deputy heads in the federal public service as well as the heads of large police services to support the effective management of the RCMP workforce.
According to the new labour relations regime, RCMP members will be able to choose to work in a non-unionized environment, enabled through joint consultation, or to work in a unionized environment, represented by a certified bargaining agent. As is the case with most police forces in Canada, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.
In either a unionized or a non-unionized environment, the new labour relations regime for the RCMP would include the following features.
The proposed legislation gives the commissioner human resource management authorities similar to those of deputy heads in the federal public service—as I said earlier—and to those of heads of large police services in Canada. This includes the authority to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.
The President of the Treasury Board will establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide him with recommendations on overall compensation, that is, pay and benefits, for RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent.
If members choose not to be represented by a bargaining agent, the total compensation advisory committee's recommendations would apply to all RCMP members.
If members choose to be represented by a bargaining agent, the committee's recommendations would only apply to officers, that is, inspectors and ranks above, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.
The committee would be comprised of up to five impartial and external members who, together, would have an appropriate mix of knowledge of policing operations and of compensation issues and principles.
The total compensation advisory committee shares many similarities with the advisory committee on senior level retention and compensation, which provides, among other things, independent advice and recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board on compensation and overall human resources management matters for executives, deputy ministers, chief executive officers of crown corporations and other Governor in Council appointees.
The proposed legislation requires, among other things, that a consultation committee be established to address workplace issues. This could include the co-development of workplace improvements; that is to say, members could also participate in identifying and collaboratively resolving workplace issues and challenges. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.
The bill maintains the current informal conflict management system and integrates it into all labour relations processes. This system will continue to offer options to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.
The proposed legislation provides the commissioner with the authority to implement a restructured discipline system. Consistent with discipline systems found throughout other Canadian police services and the broader public service, the new system would ensure that the RCMP is able to address and resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. It would give RCMP members the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to an impartial, external decision-making body, the Public Service Labour Relations Board.
The proposed legislation would include a more timely and effective grievance process. This new process would give members the right to refer certain decisions to an impartial, external, decision-making body, the Public Service Labour Relations Board.
What role does the Public Service Relations Board play in the public service? The legislation proposes that the board act as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members. Members would not be able to refer grievances to the board on issues such as assignment of duties, law enforcement techniques or uniform standards.
To fulfill its role, the Public Service Labour Relations Board will take into account the unique role of the RCMP as a police organization, protecting Canadians and national safety. It will have to ensure it has to the capacity to perform its new powers and functions, including the ability to assign adjudicators who have knowledge of policing and police organizations as required.
The bill is a step in the right direction but the Bloc Québécois has some concerns. There are some issues that could be debated in committee if the bill is passed here in the House. One of our concerns is the definition of “employee” found in clause 2(1). This definition is much too strict. In our opinion, there is no reason to exclude employees who are hired outside Canada, part-time employees, casual employees and students.
These people carry out the same duties as their unionized co-workers but are denied the right of association. Members will recall that the Public Service Alliance of Canada is currently before the courts in order to have the rights of these types of employees recognized under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is also worth mentioning that the so-called confidential positions are not defined clearly enough. According to clause 31 and following, people who are in confidential positions are those who have been deemed to be so by the employer. It is then up to the union to prove otherwise. This vague or extremely flexible definition could easily lead to cases of abuse that would ultimately be harmful to labour relations.
The bill refers specifically to a certification process. When an application for certification is filed, the board must ensure that a majority of employees in the bargaining unit wish the applicant employee organization to represent them as their bargaining agent. This is a fairly unusual situation and, in our opinion, it places a very heavy burden on the shoulders of the employee organization.
Subsection 29(2) of the Canada Labour Code sets out a mechanism similar to that provided for under section 28 of the Quebec Labour Code. This mechanism involves a representation vote when the board is satisfied that the union has obtained the support of 35% or more of the employees.
In our view, this is a much more realistic approach to truly determining what the employees want. It allows for a vote, when everyone has their say.
Upon reading the bill and the rulings that led to it, we have to wonder what opportunity members of the RCMP will have to join an existing union. The unclear provision, in our opinion, is clause 56 of the bill. We wonder whether its purpose is to ensure that the employee organization actively defends its members or whether it is to limit the organization's role to defending police officers only.
Clause 56 states that:
The Board must revoke the certification of an employee organization as the bargaining agent for the bargaining unit if the Board, on application by the employer or any employee, determines that the organization no longer has as its primary mandate the representation of police officers.
In our opinion, the first solution should be adopted. With the exception of three Canadian provinces, all the other jurisdictions allow their police officers to be part of diversified employee organizations.
As I was saying at the beginning of my speech, this is a step in the right direction. The Bloc Québécois notes, however, that everything in this bill is geared to limiting the number of individuals who can join the ranks of an employee organization. Whether it be by excluding employees whose jobs are not very secure, or by designating confidential positions, there seems to be a real desire to give a limited number of people the right to organize.
What is more, having a certification process that is different from what is done under the Canada Labour Code and in other provinces shows the government's desire to make the certification process difficult.
The confusion around a number of definitions and clauses in the bill also reflects the government's attitude. We sincerely believe that with some amendments, Bill C-43 would benefit RCMP employees. In committee, we will be able to question witnesses and move and debate amendments.
Needless to say, I do not believe the government was too happy about introducing this bill. I do not get the feeling the Conservatives like unions much. I think they moved second reading of this bill quite reluctantly. In their plan to help the auto sector, the Conservatives wanted to include a condition that would have imposed a salary reduction, in spite of the collective agreements in effect.
I have another example to back up what I am saying. In the 2009 budget, the Conservatives included an amendment to the collective agreement for public service employees that unilaterally imposed new salary conditions on some public servants. This provision is found in part 10 of Bill C-10. They also voted against Bill C-395 introduced by the Bloc Québécois, which would exclude the period of a labour dispute from the employment insurance qualifying period. This bill is designed to fill a gap that, in theory, could be used by an employer to pressure a union.
Lastly, the Conservatives have always been opposed to anti-scab legislation, which once again puts workers at a disadvantage compared to employers.
This bill should be debated in committee so that we can improve it and propose amendments to give police officers and RCMP personnel the opportunity to unionize and defend their rights fairly, rigorously and effectively.
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
October 19th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
Luc Desnoyers Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC
Madam Speaker, I am obviously in favour of Bill C-386, and I congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for presenting it with so much determination and conviction. However, after hearing the arguments of the Conservatives and the Liberals on this issue, I doubt that we will be able to advance the cause of Canadian workers, which I think is an argument—yet another one—in favour of Quebec sovereignty.
We knew that the Conservatives did not like unions. They have said so many, many times, but in this 40th Parliament, they are more determined than ever to prove it to us.
Yesterday, Bill C-395, which excluded the period of a labour dispute from the qualifying period for employment insurance, died on the order paper because it did not receive a royal recommendation. The Conservatives did not support this bill, which would have guaranteed that workers whose plant closed or whose jobs were eliminated would be entitled to benefits based on the time they worked before the dispute. Words cannot express how much this heartless approach gets to me. That is one of the big Conservative principles that the Prime Minister brags about. They do nothing while the workers are struggling.
It was also the Conservative party that, in part 10 of the 2009 budget implementation bill, formerly Bill C-10, imposed salary conditions on federal public servants despite collective agreements that had already been signed. And what did the legislation say? I think that we need to see all of the elements to really understand why the Conservative government members voted against Bill C-386.
The Act said that, should the signed collective agreement propose an increase higher than what was set out in section 16, not only would the increase no longer be valid, but any increase higher than 1.5% that was received after December 8, 2008, would have to be paid back as per section 64.
Subsection 64(1) said:
Every amount paid—including amounts paid before the day on which this Act comes into force—to any person in excess of the amount that should have been paid as a result of this Act is a debt due to Her Majesty and may be recovered as such.
With Bill C-10, which passed because the Liberals supported the Conservatives yet again, the government announced to public servants that if they had negotiated a better collective agreement than the one imposed by the Act, the employees needed to repay what they had earned. Can this really be?
Would a government that abandons workers who lose their jobs following a labour dispute, forcing them to turn to the provinces for social assistance, a government that reneges on its own collective agreements and imposes new salary conditions, would a government like that vote in favour of a bill like Bill C-386? Come on.
During the first hour of debate, the Conservative member for Simcoe North stated, and I quote:
[Some are fond of citing] Quebec as an example of a jurisdiction that has successfully enacted a legislative ban on the use of replacement workers, but they are less likely to mention that Quebec's efforts were enacted more than 30 years ago. It is important to keep in mind the context here. The economic and labour issues faced by the province of Quebec in the 1970s are absolutely not the same as the ones faced by the Government of Canada today. It is an entirely different scenario.
Well, he was right. That is why on September 22, 2010, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed the following motion:
That in order to ensure that the Quebec Labour Code reflects the new realities of today's workplace, the National Assembly is calling on the Government of Quebec to examine the possibility of updating the Labour Code, particularly with respect to the anti-scab provisions, in order to take into account the impact of new technology.
Legislation preventing the use of replacement workers in order to achieve a balance of forces in labour disputes between employers and employees is as relevant in 2010 as it was 30 years ago. It is not a question of context, regardless of what the Conservative member from Simcoe North thinks, it is a question of values.
In contrast to Quebec, which prohibited it in 1977, there is nothing at the present time in the Canada Labour Code that specifically forbids the use of strike breakers.
Clause 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition on the use of replacement workers, but only when an employer uses them “for the demonstrated purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity”. This is a very weak prohibition because all that an employer has to do in order to demonstrate his good faith is continue to recognize the existing union and negotiate with it in order to have the right to use replacement workers.
A firm prohibition is absolutely essential, though, in order to encourage civilized negotiations and industrial peace. It is also the key to a fair balance of forces between employers and employees.
Workers in sectors that fall under the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications, banks, ports, bridges, air transport and so forth, constitute about 8% of the Quebec workforce and they are disadvantaged, therefore, when they have to negotiate with their employers. As a result, strikes tend to last longer.
According to Quebec labour ministry statistics, workers in Quebec whose employer falls under federal jurisdiction are almost always over-represented in the number of days of work lost.
Even though they made up just under 8% of the Quebec workforce, they were responsible for 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and for 22.6% in 2003. In 2002, they constituted 7.3% of the workforce and were responsible for 48% of the work days lost due to labour disputes.
In short, over the last decade, the person-days lost by workers in Quebec covered by the Canada Labour Code were on average two and a half times greater than they should have been, given the demographic weight of these workers.
This means, of course, that strikes are longer—we have seen more when the federal government is involved—and more violent when employers can hire strike breakers.
They talk about good labour relations and mediation to justify their opposition to Bill C-386, but we will get back to that.
The Conservative government stated its opposition at the outset, and having no genuine arguments, retreated behind apocalyptic scenarios that have nothing to do with reality. Quebec has had legislation prohibiting replacement workers for 30 years, and there have been no catastrophes.
The Liberal labour relations critic has already made it known that she intends to vote against Bill C-386. And what is the red herring argument she gives for this? Allow me to quote what she said in the first hour of second reading of this bill on June 11:
What is at the core of my argument that we should not be supporting this private member's bill? The key to the situation really is fair and free collective bargaining that is balanced between employers and unions. I would assert that this balance cannot be maintained and improved through a selective private member's bill that picks [either of these groups].
In short, she suggested allowing scabs until a crisis erupts and ensuring the right to fair collective bargaining. If, during a labour dispute, the workers are the only losers and the plant is working on all cylinders thanks to replacement workers, the Liberal critic feels that there is fair collective bargaining. We would not need to harm the economy and it is just too bad for the poor strikers on the picket line.
However, I do not agree, and like the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I am asking my colleagues to support this bill and to listen to what will be said in committee by the main stakeholders: the workers.
October 19th, 2010 / 3 p.m.
Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC
Mr. Speaker, the government refused to give the royal recommendation to the Bloc Québécois' Bill C-395, which would make workers who are victims of labour disputes eligible for employment insurance benefits. What is most absurd is that this government is more generous to prisoners, because the period of incarceration is excluded from the benefit calculation, while the lockout period is not.
How can this government abandon locked-out workers like the ones in Lebel-sur-Quévillon?
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2010 / 11:55 a.m.
Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague on his excellent speech on Bill C-395. His own riding has been affected by the lack of legislation in this area.
This is the last speech about this bill. I have only five minutes left to wind up and convince the Conservatives to go forward with this bill. It should have been passed and should be passed, because it is a simple, effective solution to a major flaw in the Employment Insurance Act that prevents workers who lose their jobs as a result of a labour dispute—whether a lockout or a strike—from qualifying for employment insurance.
By refusing to give the royal recommendation to Bill C-395, as it did to Bill C-241, which also proposed measures to support workers by abolishing the waiting period, the minority Conservative government is once again showing that it could not care less about workers who lose their jobs. By refusing to support this bill, this minority Conservative government is once again ignoring the democratic will of this House. Most members want this bill to go forward, but the Conservatives are still turning a deaf ear.
Unfortunately, by blocking Bill C-395 and preventing it from going to the Senate, the Conservative government is turning its back on workers who lose their jobs. Throughout this debate, the Conservatives have put forward bizarre arguments, and I would like to mention one that the parliamentary secretary made here just a few minutes ago. He said in his speech that if this bill were passed, it would affect the negotiating position of workers and employers during lockouts and strikes. This is what it means to him: “Someone is on strike or is locked out, but does not want to find a solution. He does not want to go back to work because he wants to get employment insurance benefits.” Come on. If I am a worker and I am on strike or I am locked out, I do not necessarily want to go on EI. I want to go back to my job at the company and I want to negotiate fair, equitable conditions to keep my job. That is my goal.
The Conservative government's argument does not hold water. As I have said many times, this government does not want to support society's least fortunate. It is not the least bit interested in these people or in the unemployed. The guaranteed income supplement is another example. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they kept urging the Liberal government to increase and improve the guaranteed income supplement and to compensate seniors for having swindled them. They are in power now, but they are not doing anything. They just keep spending astronomical amounts on all sorts of things, from buying planes to giving oil companies tax breaks. What we have here is a small bill designed to help workers, a bill that will cost next to nothing. As my colleague indicated, the Journal de Montréal may be next. Yet we are told that there is no money. There is no money for that, and that is shameful.
If there are any unemployed people in their ridings—surely there are some—government members should think of them. They should think a little instead of constantly investing inordinate amounts to support companies, including banks, that rake in huge profits and use tax shelters. The government helps and supports them. It should also support the workers.
I ask the parliamentary secretary, here in this House, to urge his colleagues in the governing party to vote in favour of providing the royal recommendation to Bill C-395.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for shepherding a bill I introduced through the House.
It is not just the workers in Lebel-sur-Quévillon who are affected. Many other workers may be as well. Lebel-sur-Quévillon was just the first example of how the modernization of the Employment Insurance Act by former Liberal prime minister and finance minister Paul Martin allowed the government to take money out of the employment insurance fund—which was known as the unemployment insurance fund at the time—to pay down the debt.
But employment insurance is not a tax. The government is using it as a hidden tax, but it is not a tax. It is insurance that workers and employers pay for to keep employees nearby. A strike or lockout is a lawful action by workers or an employer and should be encouraged as a positive measure. It should not be a positive measure for one party and a negative measure for the other, because both pay into the employment insurance fund and have the right to keep workers nearby during a labour dispute.
The parliamentary secretary was present when I testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I explained very clearly that Bill C-395 would exclude the period of the strike or lockout, which is legal, from the qualifying period. This does not take anything away from the government. It does not cost the government or its treasury anything. The employment insurance fund belongs to employers and workers.
Regrettably, I do not have much time, but I am happy to speak today to Bill C-395, which would make the workers in Lebel-sur-Quévillon eligible for EI.
According to statistics from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, more than half of unemployed workers do not have access to employment insurance, even though they have paid into the plan. If passed, Bill C-395 will not fix every flaw, but it will correct a major shortcoming in the act. I am talking about cases where workers who lose their jobs as a result of a lengthy labour dispute—whether a strike or a lockout—do not qualify for employment insurance.
The Minister of Natural Resources, who is also the minister responsible for the Montreal region, might have to deal with this problem with regard to the Journal de Montréal if Quebecor were to decide tomorrow morning to drop the Journal de Montréal and focus on the Journal de Québec. The journalists and employees of the Journal de Montréal—there are 253 of them and this is in the news today—would not be entitled to employment insurance. In a modern economy, this is unacceptable and unfair. When parliamentarians read about an injustice committed in the past, it is their duty to correct it. They should not try to avoid it for the sake of ideology or party lines.
I believe it is important for all elected members to show empathy when the time comes to discuss measures to help workers and to encourage land occupancy. The Conservatives might be pleased to know that this has been around since Mackenzie King's day. He had a reputation for consulting ghosts. Even if the Liberal leader dabbled in that, the fact remains that EI was set up to maintain land occupancy and, at the time, to move toward a modern economy.
Unfortunately, employment insurance has not kept up with this modern economy.
A number of MPs come from Quebec. I understand that ideologies from the west and the east might be different and that a party line can get in the way. Nonetheless, the MPs from Quebec who are part of this government know the ideology and culture of Quebec. They can explain those things to their party and even have a bit of power within their party—it is about time—in order to raise awareness about the growing need for modern society to occupy the land.
We are dealing with an economic problem. The Minister of Finance acknowledges that the current deficit is close to $170 billion. Nonetheless, it is not up to a specific category of workers and employers to be responsible for paying the deficit themselves.
I would like to point out that as members of Parliament we do not contribute to employment insurance and therefore do not help pay off the deficit. Employment insurance is being used to pay off the deficit.
Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary thinks, I believe that favouring one party over another distorts principles, circumstances and facts, and that is deplorable. The UN's message should make the government realize what the world thinks about Canada in all this. Who represents Canada? The government does.
As I explained earlier, the bill would exclude a certain time period; the period from when the strike or lockout is declared to the time it ends is not part of the calculation. At the end of the lockout, if the result is a closure or a number of workers losing their jobs, the qualifying period would be deemed to begin when the strike or lockout started and would be applied as though it began on that date.
One of the arguments used by opponents to this bill is that the cost to implement this measure would be too high. This is an argument that I have never understood because it is completely unfounded. I have never understood why they are against it. Despite the fact that in its last budget this government recognized its obligation to create an independent employment insurance fund, that fund has never been created and they continue to pillage the EI fund. It is important that today, for the future of our economy, this injustice be fixed and the parties come to a legal agreement.
I urge the government to help the opposition parties, which are all in favour of this bill, and to acknowledge, once and for all, the vision of Parliament. The opposition parties hold the majority. A good deal means that the parties reach an agreement among themselves. They have the power to make recommendations. Parliament has decided to support this bill. I invite the government to follow this lead and correct this injustice.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
We support this bill, unlike the Conservatives, who say it will cost too much. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources would have us believe the bill is too expensive for people, the public, workers and companies, yet he says that only 1% to 3% of workers could benefit. This change to employment insurance is not for all laid-off workers. The EI program already takes care of that. This is about companies that have gone through a strike or a lockout and decide to close their doors for good or companies that, under the same circumstances, decide to call 75% of their workers back to work. Those are the people we are talking about. We are not asking for much. The cost is quite minimal. Do not believe the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources when he says that this would be too expensive.
In his speech, the parliamentary secretary said that if, during some or all of the weeks in the normal 52-week period—less if the person received benefits—the person was incapable of working because of an illness or pregnancy, or if that person was receiving assistance as part of an employment benefit or provincial benefits, the qualifying period could be extended by the number of days the person was in that situation during the qualifying period. This period can be extended by a maximum of 52 weeks to reach a maximum qualifying period of 104 weeks.
The parliamentary secretary forgot to mention one specific situation. I do not know whether he was too uncomfortable to talk about it, but this also applies to people in prison. If a person is in prison, the period will be extended to 104 weeks. The parliamentary secretary failed to mention that group. A person in prison can have 104 weeks, but people who were locked out or who were part of a legal strike are not entitled to have their weeks extended.
I know why companies are against this. I have dealt with the kind of companies that oppose such legislation. At the end of a strike, companies can punish workers by delivering a final blow. As if it were not enough that workers were on strike or locked out for 10 months, and as if companies had not bled them enough, companies are intent on getting every last drop. They do not call workers back to work for another two months or so. They want to teach them a harsh lesson because the workers apparently have not suffered enough.
What difference does it make to company's bottom line if it does not call workers back to work and they collect EI? Let us look at this from a different angle: according to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources, all an individual has to do is find work elsewhere. Just find another job. That is tantamount to calling that individual a slacker. He should have said outright that workers who do not go out looking for work while on strike are simply sitting on their hands and unwilling to work.
The real question is whether the employer, the company, actually wants employees to go work elsewhere. Fully qualified individuals with a trade could leave the company for another one. By the time the strike is over, there would be no employees left to work for that employer.
Is the government suggesting that, during a strike, workers should find work with a different employer, thereby leaving the company with no employees? Labour disputes are recognized under federal legislation. Under federal law, employees have the right to strike, and companies have the right to lock them out. Obviously, companies do not want to lose their employees.
That is what I believe, unless I am mistaken. Maybe it would not bother a company with only 10 or 15 employees if those employees were to go elsewhere, because it could replace them. However, a company that has 1,000 employees would not want to lose them all at the end of a legal labour dispute, because they are skilled and familiar with the industry.
The parliamentary secretary failed to mention another thing. I will not repeat what he said, but I will try to explain it. He said it does not make sense to support someone who is on strike or has been locked out. Yet it was his government that agreed to loan Vale Inco $1 billion during the strike there, while the workers at Voisey's Bay—working for the same company—were still on strike. When that company's workers were on strike, the government was willing to loan it $1 billion. We all know how things work: after three or four years the company will say that things are not going well and the government will simply forgive its debt. The company will not even have to pay back its loan.
The Conservative government says it respects workers, yet it does not want to help people after a labour dispute. People have paid into the EI system their entire lives and at the end of the labour dispute, within the 104 days, it is not that they do not want to return to work, but rather that the employer has not called them back to work. Between 75% and 80% of workers return to work, but the other 20% are told to go back home and apply for welfare.
It is not up to the province to pay for labour disputes. If those people ask for social assistance, the province should not have to pay for that. The purpose of the employment insurance system is to allow people to look for another job. When someone is on strike or locked out, he or she is not looking for another job, so there is a contradiction here. As soon as the company opens its doors again and the dispute is over—whether it was a lockout or a strike— some workers are looking for jobs, and that is when they should be entitled to EI and given an income. That way, they can provide for their families while they are looking for another job. The government seems to be missing the boat on this particular point.
If we can give employment insurance benefits to people in prison and those accused of all kinds of things, I would think that we could also give them to these workers. I am not against allowing prisoners to receive employment insurance, but if they can receive benefits, I would think that, when a labour dispute is over, workers should be able to receive them as well. I am not talking about giving employment insurance benefits to people while they are on strike or are locked out. It is clear that if someone were to go work elsewhere, they would be entitled to a certain number of weeks of EI, but they would not receive money from the strike fund.
We are not talking about making workers entitled to employment insurance during a strike, which would benefit the employees at the expense of the employer. If, when the dispute ends, the employer tells its employees that it can no longer employ them because of the economic crisis, or that it may, perhaps, be able to rehire them in six months, why should these workers not be entitled to employment insurance?
The only reason is that the Conservative government is siding with the large corporations, and not the workers. It is not capable of doing a little something to respect workers by giving them access to a program that belongs to them, and not to the Government of Canada.
I suggest that the government change its mind and vote in favour of the bill to show respect for workers. If it can grant loans to a company like Vale Inco, a multi-million-dollar corporation, it should also be able to give money to workers after a labour dispute ends.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to discuss Bill C-395 yet again. As most of us know, this is not the first time. This is a bill to amend the Employment Insurance Act.
Currently, the EI Act does not specify that the qualifying period should be extended in the event of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute. This is not clear. The qualifying period of the 52-week period immediately before the start date of a claim or the period since the start of a previous EI claim is that a claim has started during the 52-week period.
This private member's bill aims to extend the qualifying period during the length of the labour dispute so that the employee will not be penalized under the EI system. For example, the employee has worked full-time for three years, at which time there is a work stoppage as a result of labour dispute that lasts, for example, 10 weeks. Shortly after returning to work, the employee is laid off. When submitting an EI claim, the qualifying period would be 52 weeks. Under this proposed amendment, the qualifying period would be 62 weeks, thereby ensuring that the period during the labour dispute does not affect one's ability to qualify for EI benefits, which is what we are trying to do.
As this House knows, this bill was reported back from committee on May 6 with amendments. It has gone to committee before. Hopefully we can get it back there again. With regard to clause 1 in Bill C-395, the report back from committee said:
That Bill C-395, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing line 19 on page 1 with the following:
“the person was employed, provided that, for the purposes of determining the weekly rate of benefits, the qualifying period is established retrospectively to the fifty-two weeks preceding the beginning of the dispute.”
This amendment clarifies that the weekly rate will be based on the 52-week period preceding the beginning of the dispute. This is really about clarify the act, which is not very clear, and about not penalizing workers. As we and others have said, the act is not clear on how to treat the qualifying period with respect to a work stoppage. This bill aims to clarify the qualifying period. We have heard many discussing this and I have just mentioned how that works.
The workers should not be penalized. Individuals cannot work during a labour dispute. Whether it is a lockout or a strike, they do not have a job and therefore they are not accumulating hours. If they are laid off through no fault of their own after the dispute ends, we should not penalize them for the weeks that they were on work stoppage. Essentially that is what happens now because the act is not clear.
The bill would extend the qualifying period for the length of the work stoppage, which is what we are discussing and that it does help in that case. This bill could also make the qualifying period longer than 104 weeks should the work stoppage last more than 52 weeks. Again, its aim is to ensure that the workers are not being penalized for that period of work stoppage, whether it is a lockout or a strike, so that they are entitled to their full amount of EI.
A lockout or strike should not impact whether the workers can qualify for EI if they are laid off after the work stoppage. The number of people who are laid off after a work stoppage is not a large number, I am told from all of the discussions that I have had with various people, both at the department and in other places.
The EI Act is already quite convoluted and complex, as most of us know, and it is sometimes difficult to navigate. For instance, if there is a work stoppage involved with the EI claim, it can be contentious if it is not specifically prescribed in the act, which it is not at the moment. This bill would make the process simpler and clearly defines how a claim can proceed if the worker was part of a work stoppage in the 52 weeks before being laid off. It lays that out and makes it much clearer for everybody so that we do not have the situation which we have now, where there can be disputes and claimants end up in arbitration.
When people lose their jobs because of a long labour dispute, it now prevents them from accumulating the required hours in the 52 preceding weeks. This would make people ineligible for EI for a big chunk of their time.
With the bill, the benefits could be calculated based on the weeks worked prior to a labour dispute, despite the length of it, so they have a seamless contribution for all of their work. As I said before, workers do not always choose to stay on strike and, in most cases, they do not work.
There has been some discussion with respect to the cost. I know the Conservatives claim that this would only affect 1% of the firms that close following a dispute. They say that this is a bad thing and that it is not worth it. However, if we are talking about 1%, even for those companies that do not shut down, and in most cases they do not, the number of workers who are fired after that dispute is very small.
With the numbers that were provided by the Conservative government, it seems the liability in this case would not a large one. It is clear that there has to be some regard for the workers, but I do not think there is. We are looking at families in communities that may be losing finances. It is not a very large liability. I think the parliamentary secretary said that it would be only 1% of those that would close after a strike.
The Conservatives always like to blame the workers when they are on strike, but that is not always the case. As we know, employers also have the ability to lock out workers. We cannot assume that the workers are to blame. In this system there should not be blame. It should simply be a situation of what is right in terms of income.
If workers are laid off and cannot qualify for EI because of the length of the dispute, the government penalizes them, yet there is no penalty for the employers. Again, there needs to be an equity situation. Employees need to have some assistance and we need to ensure their rights to EI are not lost.
The Conservative like to claim that the employees can get other jobs during a labour dispute. What they do not understand is it is difficult to get another job when employees hope to go back to their jobs. If they go back to work following a labour dispute and then are laid off, this does not change the fact that they should quality for EI.
Therefore, finding part time work may be possible, but it is not always a reality and not always likely. Employers want to know where workers have come from. They do not necessarily like to hire people who are on strike. This argument makes the assumption that everyone who is on lockout or on strike is making another salary somewhere else and therefore they do not have a need for EI.
If one were to talk to the people who were on strike in the Vale Inco situation in Sudbury, one would see the hardship that the strike created not only for the employees but for the whole of the region, the city of Sudbury and other groups.
Workers pay into these benefits and a labour dispute should not impact their ability to collect benefits when they are laid off through no fault of their own after a lockout or the labour dispute.
Like the Conservatives say, only 1% of companies supposedly close after a strike, which is a small number. However, a majority of the people who would be affected are those where there is no shutdown. There is a gap and it must be fixed. The cost is minimal.
Others today have commented on that and the government representative also said that it was a small number. The government needs to stop penalizing employees and actually help them, their families and their communities.
This only applies if workers are fired after a strike, and the numbers are small. It is only fair that they not lose EI benefits to which they have a right.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this debate on Bill C-395 regarding labour disputes and employment insurance qualifications for workers involved in these disputes.
The bill's proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance Act would change the way the qualifying period is calculated in the case of a work stoppage due to a labour dispute. The qualifying period is the period in which the required number of hours of insurable employment that a worker must have in order to establish a claim for benefits is calculated.
As we know, the number of insurable hours needed to qualify for EI benefits varies, depending upon the unemployment rate of the EI region in which an individual lives. The duration of the EI benefits is also based upon the unemployment rate and the amount of insurable hours a person has accumulated in the qualifying period.Those are important elements.
The crux of the bill is that the qualifying period in which the required number of insurable hours must be worked is generally the 52-week period immediately before the start of a claim. In some instances, however, the qualifying period can be extended up to 104 weeks for claimants who were not employed in insurable employment and not receiving EI because they were ill or quarantined.
The purpose of the bill is to extend the qualifying period so that it equals the duration of a labour dispute, even if this period exceeds the current maximum of 104 weeks for extensions provided due to illness or quarantine. The bill involves itself directly in respect to the length of a labour dispute. Its intention is to allow employees to be eligible for EI benefits if they are laid off after a lengthy labour dispute comes to an end.
The amendment presented by the committee further clarifies the bill ensuring that the time period used to calculate the weekly rate of benefits in the 52-week period prior to the beginning of the labour dispute, presumably the time during which the worker was working.
As we are all aware, both employers and workers pay premiums so that workers may collect benefits if they are unable to work. This may be because a worker is laid off, a worker is sick, pregnant, caring for a newborn or adopted child, or is providing care or support to a gravely ill family member.
The EI program is not meant to be a measure that would interfere in any way with a labour dispute or take or advantage one side of a labour dispute over another.
It is clear that Bill C-395 would go against the principle that the employment insurance system should remain neutral during a labour dispute. If Bill C-395 were passed, this could affect the negotiating position of the parties involved, change incentives and perhaps influence the outcome of a labour dispute. This simply should not be the place of the EI system and my hon. colleagues should, quite frankly, agree with me on this particular point.
To make matters worse, this particular bill's coming into force clause would cause the bill's provision to have effect retroactively, looking and reaching back almost three years to start, and even further back in the case of labour disputes in effect at that time.
These provisions are not wise at all.
I know we sometimes do things in this place, such as seeing the clock at a particular time to expedite things slightly and to make appropriate adjustments but deeming a bill to have come into force three years ago and to make retroactive its provisions even further back in time goes against good common sense. It would be a bad precedent, it would be bad law and, quite frankly, it should not be supported.
What about the cost of the bill? The cost must come from somewhere. Regardless of how one accounts for the money, the cost of the bill would have to come in the form of even higher deficits and higher debt.
I emphasize that we are empathetic of workers who are laid off. I think we all can and we all do and, most certainly, extended labour disputes are not pleasant to endure for anyone involved. However, we need to balance that understanding with practical considerations.
Our government must ensure that careful consideration is given to labour market impacts and costs of changes that are proposed. We must be responsible with our policy, programs and spending. That is the very approach that our government has taken since we came to office and we will continue to do so into the future. We must always be mindful that change does not happen in a vacuum and we must take into account the possible impacts of changes like this.
The legislation proposes that the length of the qualifying period should be extended when a labour dispute occurs. We should view this bill in context. Quite simply, the context is that most labour disputes are relatively short and rarely end in the closure of a firm.
The figures have been stated previously but merit repeating. Between 2003 and 2009, for example, a little more than 1% of the total number of strikes ended in a firm's closure. The average length of the strike that ended in a firm's closure was 110 days. For lockouts, the figure was 116 days. These figures average out to 16 weeks. That leaves plenty of time for employees to qualify for benefits under the current 52-week requirement.
By these comments I do not want to suggest that I or our government is unsympathetic to the plight of the unemployed. It is far from it. It is simply that we need to take account of the facts to inform our decision-making.
I would also add that the incidence of firm closures for those aforementioned labour disputes remain very low. For strikes it was 1.3% and 3.6% for lockouts. Therefore, statistically speaking, we are talking about very rare and limited circumstances. As I said, we empathize with the workers involved in the few longer disputes but we must approach the proposed changes to the system with caution and clear heads.
Current provisions now in effect do allow for the extension of the qualifying period up to 104 weeks in situations where individuals are unable to work for reasons such as quarantine or illness. The provisions exclude labour dispute situations however because the individuals are not prevented from working elsewhere by our laws or by the EI system.
This is an important point. While a labour dispute drags on, the workers involved are not prevented by the EI system from working elsewhere. The idea behind this bill is that these workers are not able to accumulate sufficient hours to qualify for EI if they are laid off or the firm closes after the dispute. However, that is not entirely accurate. In many cases, those workers choose not to seek other employment for reasons of their own. They are not prevented from doing so and, therefore, this must also be taken into account.
The proposed amendments contained in Bill C-395 would create inconsistencies with this provision by creating an undefined extension to the qualifying period if a labour dispute occurs. That would be problematic. I think the bill is flawed in quite a number of ways and should not be supported.
That is why the government will not be supporting the bill. It is not out of disregard for the unfortunate circumstances of some workers caught up in lengthy disputes but for the integrity of the system and the fairness of its treatment between employers and workers.
Our government has acted responsibly to enhance the employment insurance program. particularly since the economic slowdown. I could go through quite an extensive list, including five extra weeks of EI benefits, work sharing programs, skills upgrading and training provisions, and help for older workers. This bill's sponsors have consistently voted against those responsible improvements and have instead proposed irresponsible, flawed and costly measures in their place.
This bill is no different than their other proposals. It would be costly, run roughshod over the principle of neutrality, which is very important, it would have very narrow effect and it would create inconsistencies that would jeopardize the fairness and integrity of the system. This bill should not become a part of the EI system and therefore I would urge all members of the House not to support it.
Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent question.
During the World March of Women, women made a number of demands and were very active in Quebec. I participated in a number of marches last week in Lavaltrie, Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, Louiseville and Berthierville. A number of women had many demands. They gathered together in Rimouski this week to make their demands known.
Bill C-395 affects women, as do the measures to eliminate the waiting period and increase the eligibility threshold to 360 hours, and other measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois. When the Conservative government took power, it made cuts to Status of Women Canada's programs. It even said that there is equality among men and women. We all remember that. That was said in the House by one of the ministers. But that is not the case, as the hon. member has indicated, especially in the private sector, where there is a serious gap of 70% between the incomes of men and women. That is a huge difference.
Improving the employment insurance system would make it possible to help the women who are affected by employment insurance, as well as the least fortunate in our society, which is consistent with improving the status of women.