Protecting Air Service Act

An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Lisa Raitt  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment provides for the continuation and resumption of air service operations and imposes a final arbitration selection process to resolve matters remaining in dispute between the parties.

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

  • March 13, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • March 13, 2012 Passed That Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
  • March 13, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Committee of the Whole.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I really like this question because the member made reference to how we are always supporting the big bosses of the union. However, the government does not understand what the union is all about. The union belongs to the membership. The union negotiating team has the mandate to negotiate, but the law does not say that the team votes on the contract. It is the membership that votes on the contract. The union belongs to the workers and the team is working on their behalf. The government is pissed off because the membership voted against a proposed contract and wanted the right to vote again. Because the members did not follow the big boss, the government wants to punish them and legislate them back to work. That is what the government is doing. It is totally mixed up about who they are and what the union is all about.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, while my colleague was speaking in the House, I took a minute to ask my Facebook friends a question. I asked them if they agree with the government that Air Canada is an essential service and that the economy might collapse if the company negotiates with its employees. I told them that it was proving difficult to find common ground and that there could be a strike or a lockout. Well, 95% of them told me that they do not agree. They also said that the government must take Canadians for fools if it thinks that workers should not be allowed to organize, and that the government should not try to take away the basic right to freedom of association and free negotiations.

The charter guarantees freedom of association. If the right for two parties, employers and employees, to negotiate freely with equal power is taken away, what is left? That is what I want to ask my colleague.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, nothing is left, but this is even worse than that. Before the minister even introduced this bill, she stated that there would be no strike. The government is telling the employer that it can do whatever it wants because the government will legislate employees back to work and impose one of the final offers.

In the past, the arbitrator has consistently chosen the employer's final offer. The minister said that everyone who called her was against a strike. I am happy to hear the member for Gatineau say the opposite, and I thank her for sharing the 95% figure.

I am the labour critic, and neither my email nor my fax has been filled with messages from people saying that the government should legislate workers back to work. That never happened.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst. He is a vigorous defender of workers' rights in this country: the right to collective bargaining, employment insurance and many other matters.

I also want to thank the member for bringing up a particularly important issue. We hear from the other side about the NDP taking its marching orders from the labour bosses. The member for Acadie—Bathurst rightly pointed out that the collective bargaining process, the trade union movement, is a democratic process. Workers involved in that process get to choose whether they want a particular settlement or not. They elect their own leaders and participate fully. I would say the House has a lesson to learn about democracy when we see the kinds of processes that are constantly invoked in the House, such as shutting down debate, closure, time allocation and time limits on committees. We could certainly learn a lesson from the trade union movement.

The other interesting thing we keep hearing from members opposite is how this is all about the economy. One day they will stand in the House and talk about their terrific program that allowed a strong economy to emerge. The next day they talk about how fragile the economy is and that we must do everything possible to shut down workers to protect this very fragile economy. Yet when opposition members rise in the House to talk about child and family poverty in this country and the fact that a significant number of working people live well below the poverty line, we do not hear that being talked about in terms of our fragile economy and having a plan in place to deal with those kinds of things.

What we are talking about today is the back to work legislation in the labour dispute between Air Canada and its workers. I will take a step back in history. Back in 2004 an article was written by Judy and Larry Haiven entitled “Back-to-work legislation a threat to democracy”. I am not going to read the whole article, but there is one particular paragraph that is very important in the context of why it is important to have a free, open and transparent collective bargaining process. It states:

Canada and other industrialized countries introduced modern collective bargaining legislation in the mid 20th century because they had learned that, given appropriate conditions, workers would join unions and that they would go on strike whether or not they were allowed to by law. Even when unions themselves were illegal and strikes were met by troops and machine guns, workers would still go on strike. Modern governments figured it better to legalize strikes and institutionalize collective bargaining, tolerating and even encouraging occasional strikes rather than bottle up worker resentment until it burst forth in even greater measure.

There were a number of very good reasons for a collective bargaining process that allowed workers and their employers to work things out without interference from government.

I want to quote from a letter from the Canadian Labour Congress written on March 9, 2012. It raises some very good questions for the minister and the government. The letter states:

I am writing, yet again, to protest the government's ongoing interference in free collective bargaining at Air Canada, coincidentally on the heels of the company's announcement yesterday to lock out its pilots at midnight on Sunday.

Once again, just like we had with Canada Post, we have the employer locking out its workers.

The ongoing interference in collective bargaining at Air Canada, a private company, continues to signal to business that this government is squarely on the side of the employer, and failing to remain neutral, and to respect free collective bargaining.

Minister, one must ask themselves how well managed is a company where the members of every single one of its bargaining units have voted for strike action or gone on strike in the last year? Clearly Air Canada management has so poisoned the bargaining relationship that employees simply were not, and are not, willing to sacrifice anymore. Your government's actions in forcing employees to accept what they cannot freely negotiate and vote on could potentially cause irreparable harm to future labour relations between the workers and their unions with the company. Employees will have no ownership or duty of responsibility to what can only be characterized as collective agreement negotiated between the Government of Canada and Air Canada.

These decisions, while seemingly appealing for the government in the short-term, will have far-reaching long-term implications for a mature federal labour relations system that has withstood the test of time.

The Canadian Labour Congress has raised some very good points around why it is important to allow this process to play itself out instead of having a government-employer type of collective bargaining that simply shuts the workers out.

In an article from last November there is a very good analysis of the Conservative government's labour relations policies. I am sure that if author Jim Stanford were writing it today, he would add another interference by the government. The article is about how the labour minister's three principles for labour relations only run one way. In it, Mr. Stanford writes:

[The Conservative] government has interpreted the rule of law rather flexibly in the arena of labour relations. In just six months in power, the Conservative majority has intervened three times to end or prevent work stoppages.

Of course, it is now four times.

The article continues:

The first instance was in June, when [the labour minister] announced, after less than one day of picketing, that she would forcibly end a strike by Canadian Auto Workers members at Air Canada. The two sides settled, sending one outstanding item, pensions for new hires, to arbitration. She established what we could call [the labour minister's] First Principle: Even at private non-monopoly companies, government can ban strikes.

That is principle number one.

Later that month, [the minister] waded into the Canada Post dispute. It was management (not the union) that locked everyone out and closed the doors. But that was enough pretext for [the minister] to legislate the posties back to work, imposing wages lower than what management had already offered. [The minister's] Second Principle was established: Government can explicitly dictate wage settlements.

In October, she pushed the legal boundaries even further, calling in the labour board to pre-empt a CUPE strike at Air Canada, laughably worrying about the “health and safety” of the travelling public... [The minister's] Third Principle is actually a blank cheque: Government can simply prohibit any work stoppage it wants to.

The article goes on to say:

Each case represented an audacious willingness to intervene in labour-management relations, even at private companies. Each case moved the goalposts a little further. And now [the minister] has speculated about amending the labour code so that the economy itself is defined as an essential service. That would codify [the minister's] Third Principle, giving government the explicit right to ban any work stoppage it deems damaging.

Of course, which work stoppages are or aren’t prevented will remain a matter of judgment. Imagine if all work stoppages were prohibited--lockouts, as well as strikes. All disputes would then be settled by binding arbitration, as currently occurs with true essential services, like police and hospitals.

Mr. Stanford continues:

But employers don’t want that approach, fearing that arbitrators may occasionally side with the union. The arbitrator in the Air Canada-CAW case did exactly that, sparking a bizarre decision by the company to appeal his “final and binding” judgment to the courts (an appeal since abandoned, wisely).

When employers hold the better cards, as they do in today’s unforgiving labour market, they happily go for the jugular--work stoppage or not. Consider another epic dispute that ended last month:—

—again, this article was written a few months ago—

—the 50-week lockout at the United States Steel Corp. factory in Hamilton. The company starved out the union with far-reaching demands to gut pensions and other long-standing provisions. The economic cost of that bitter, lopsided dispute didn’t slow the company, nor did it spur any level of government to action.

I estimate that the direct loss to GDP resulting from the lockout in Hamilton was four times larger than the effects of a one-week full shutdown at Air Canada. Indirect spinoff losses made the steel lockout even more painful. If government were truly concerned with “protecting recovery,” why didn’t it intervene? True, steel falls within provincial (not federal) labour jurisdiction. But Ottawa had plenty of leverage if it wanted to act--not least U.S. Steel’s galling violation of the production and employment commitments it made when it took over the former Stelco Inc.

Of course, NDP members have raised that in this House a number of times.

Mr. Stanford goes on to stay:

In Hamilton, where workers held little power, the government stood idly by. It seems it’s only when workers have some leverage that it acts powerfully to “protect the economy.”

There’s no doubt [the minister's] actions were popular with many. And there’s no doubt work stoppages cause inconvenience and disruption. But because something is unpopular or inconvenient hardly gives government the moral authority to take away rights, making up the law as it goes--even if it does hold a majority of seats in Parliament.

I read that whole article because I think it very ably outlines the current Conservative government's approach to labour relations in this country. All workers in this country should be very concerned about the way workers are being treated at Air Canada and other workplaces.

I can see you are signalling that my time is up, Mr. Speaker. That is unfortunate, because I was just going to talk about the economic recovery, in relation to which Mr. Stanford once again ably takes apart the government's argument that this is all about the economy.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for keeping a level head as she is arguing her case.

It is very interesting that although she lives in Nanaimo--Cowichan and is very active there, she is also very active here, and sometimes we feel that she is present simultaneously in both places. That is easy because the planes are flying. If they were not flying, a lot of anxiety would probably be flying, and the economy would be hurting also.

The last time we had a work stoppage at Air Canada, in 1998, it was for 13 days, and cost the company its life.

On February 22, Madam Justice Louise Otis said:

In the process of writing this report, I have come to learn that the tentative agreement was voted down by the Union membership. This tentative agreement was the result of a fair and productive negotiation process by competent negotiators. Tense and arduous by all means, the negotiation was nonetheless undertaken rationally and professionally by both Parties. Taking into consideration the situation of the Parties, the tentative agreement is reasonable and fair—

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course the member was unable to quite get to his question, but with respect to the fact that I live in one of the most distant ridings and travel Air Canada regularly to get back and forth between Ottawa and my riding, if it went on strike it would be an inconvenience, absolutely.

However, we must defend the rights of workers to collective bargaining no matter what the inconvenience. It is fundamental to how our country operates. It is part of our democratic process. We must support the ability of workers and their employers to work issues out without interference from the government.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to launch into a lengthy diatribe, like my colleague from Ottawa—Orléans. I have a simple question. Either they are in favour of an essential service or they are not. They cannot have it both ways.

If the government absolutely does not believe in open negotiation and free will, then would it not make sense to make this an essential service and have binding arbitration?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course the government keeps talking about the economy, but it does not talk about essential services. It simply focuses on the economy as the only reason it is ordering Air Canada back to work.

However, there are many strong arguments out there. I do not have time to go through all of Mr. Stanford's arguments, but he does point out, after the postal back to work legislation, that if the government were truly interested in looking at the fragile economy, it would look at a number of aspects, including interest rates in Canada and the loonie. There are a number of measures it could have taken, but it is not developing any policies around those areas.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:40 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was said earlier, and ever since the dispute with Canada Post we have come to realize, that workers no longer have the right to negotiate, plain and simple.

In her speech, the hon. member mentioned that the minister dealt with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. The CIRB serves no purpose anymore either. I want to have the hon. member's opinion on the following: it looks as though workers will no longer have the right to negotiate or even make a simple claim or use pressure tactics.

What type of government are we dealing with now that it has taken away all the rights of the public and workers who are simply exercising their constitutional rights? We now have a Conservative majority government that is in the process of changing all the rules.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting that the government referred this matter to the CIRB and then did not even wait to hear what it has to say about whether this impacts on the health of the economy or not. Now we are into back to work legislation. Why did it not just wait for what the CIRB had to say about it?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, in light of such enthusiasm, I know that the hon. members are anxious to hear my colleague, who does extraordinary work. You will have to suffer through my comments for the next 10 minutes.

This is an extremely important debate, but it is hypocritical. At some point, you either believe in rights or you do not. Just as with Canada Post, we have a government that seems to be doing deals under the table. Why? If you want people to have the right to negotiate, you have to let negotiation take its course.

Here is how I see it at the moment. It so happens that there is a lockout. After that, the matter is referred to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, but the government does not wait for the result and, presto, we have back-to-work legislation. That is the hypocritical part.

The hon. members opposite are telling us about the weak economy. They have to stop pitting the workers against the bosses, the bad guys against the good guys. They are all Canadian. Some are Quebeckers too, but they are all full-fledged citizens and they all pay taxes. At a certain point, it becomes a matter of human dignity, and that means respecting constitutional rights first and foremost. We give rights or we do not. There can be no half measures. If that is what we hold to, we have to give the parties to a discussion the time to go through the process to its end.

Sometimes, a lockout or a strike can go too far. If a strike begins to have a real impact on our situation, then the Minister of Labour can decide that things have gone too far and can start to talk about a bill at that point. But she must not be there to take one side or the other.

I too have been on the other side. We experienced situations and took a stand at the time. However, we want people's constitutional rights to be respected. Something about this bill irritates me to no end. The Conservatives made a mistake the last time with the Canada Post workers because the workers won in court on the very definition of arbitrator. Now, the Conservatives are trying to hide something from us and, what is more, they want to remove workers' legal recourse. So not only are these workers being treated like second class citizens but their bargaining rights are going to be taken away and they will not even be able to take the matter to court. This is not the type of society in which I want to live. This is not the Canada that I live in.

Today's debate is also an important societal debate on every person's role and the definition of a right. The government is operating through the use of pure and simple demagoguery by saying that the economy is fragile. As my colleagues have said, the economy is always doing well when the Conservatives have answers but, when they need an excuse, they blame the economy. In reality, we are in a situation where the Conservatives want to take power away from one party.

The workers have done their share; everyone is saying so. In 2003-04, they made significant sacrifices. Given that they saved $2.1 billion, it seems to me that they deserve more respect than this. During that time, obviously some people were leaving with a fortune in their pockets and a golden handshake, such as Milton and Brewer who left with $80 million. Not bad. And then there is the CEO who earns $2 million a year and who is set to receive a bonus of $5 million at the end of the month. The economy is fragile but we have the money to pay for things like this. The government is just not listening.

I find it completely unacceptable to vote in favour of this type of bill. At any given moment, we can say that we are going to give it time, that we are going to make a decision and a take a stand. In the meantime, the labour minister's role is to act as an arbitrator. Working for the public interest does not mean taking the side of one party or the other. It means ruling on the situation if it gets worse.

I asked some questions earlier. Now we must stop being hypocritical and say that Air Canada is an essential service. There are other airlines but we do not talk about them very much. In passing, there is a bit of an issue with respect to competitiveness. If Air Canada is an essential service, then the government must come back with a new bill and, from there, we will make the changes required for an essential service. If that is the case, then this matter should go directly to arbitration and the arbitrator should decide. However, the government cannot then come back and tell us that it is going to impose conditions on the arbitrator, for example. An arbitrator is supposed to look at both sides.

We have labour lawyers here. We have experienced people, such as my colleague from Gatineau, whom I quite like, actually. She was once a Liberal. She is not completely flawed after all.

That is how it should work. They should not take Canadians for fools. Canadians will not be manipulated. They understand. The member for Gatineau mentioned Facebook. I am a Twitter guy, myself. The poll machine is smoking. The Conservatives are going to be pretty disappointed when they find out that people think we should vote against this kind of bill.

This afternoon, the pilots' union also issued a news release about a survey of 1,009 people. The survey indicated that 58% of Canadians do not think the government should pass back-to-work legislation and impose working conditions. When there is an arbitrator, he must be allowed to do his work. That is just common sense.

I do not understand what kind of game the government is trying to play. Respecting rights is not just about respecting workers' rights; it is about respecting people's rights. Pitting people against one another results in the kind of country we have now, and that is why things are not going well.

I want the government to reconsider its position. It may be a little late, but that is okay because the more we repeat the message, the more likely it is to stick. We have to vote for common sense. I do not want to hear about the economy. I do not want to hear about fragility. I want to hear about what is really going on. This is not about the economy; this is about rights.

Did they really do everything in their power to negotiate an agreement? If they did not fulfill all of the conditions, then the minister can go in and say that this is a special situation. In the meantime, we have to let the process unfold. This is about rights. This is about respect. That is the kind of society I want to live in.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, when the last intervener began his speech, he threatened you, Sir, to make you suffer for the next 10 minutes. I hope you did not suffer too much.

As far as the allusions to Mr. Milton are concerned, I must say that I completely agree with hon. member for Bourassa. I was just as outraged.

I wanted to finish the quote from Justice Louise Otis:

Taking into consideration the situation of the Parties, the tentative agreement is reasonable and fair. The negotiation process, which was carried out diligently and competently, has been exhausted. I do not recommend that negotiations be further resumed or that a mediator be appointed. Under the full circumstances, I consider that a reasonable agreement had been reached.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Bourassa to join us in putting an end to this mess.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, someone once spoke honourably and enthusiastically and things ended poorly.

By the way, my colleague used the English pronunciation for Louise Otis' name. Justice Otis is a good Quebecker who had a prestigious legal career and provided a great deal of help in Haiti.

What I want to say in response is that George Smith, a former labour relations manager at Air Canada, made the following comment. The members opposite should hold their applause because this is not pretty.

This has all the appearances of the federal government doing what is best for the country but really it is a disaster. If you are negotiating a difficult labour contract, the process is being taken out of your hands and the government will do it for you. The showdown element which hurts in the short run but results in a fair settlement is gone. The net result will be labour agreements that are uncompetitive.

Is that clear? I do not think I need to add anything.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:50 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier I put a question to one of the hon. members opposite. I would like to put the same question again to the hon. member from the Liberal Party, the third party in the House.

Once more, the government is setting up two categories of people in Canada: Air Canada employees and other employees. At the moment, it is as if Air Canada employees do not have all the same rights as other Canadians. With this bill, the government is taking away all those rights and placing them below those enjoyed by other Canadians.

I wonder if he shares my view that, in fact, the government's bill is creating two categories of Canadians who are now being set against each other.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to begin by replying to my young colleague.

Clearly, this bill creates two kinds of citizens. This creates a terrible dichotomy: there are the good guys and the bad guys, and those who are not for are against. Since my colleague is new to politics, I hope he will not fall into this dogmatism, because the second party, his party, has a tendency to get caught up in its left-wing dogmatism. This has to do with right-wing dogmatism. Such dogmatism only hurts the community. If our hearts lean to the left and our wallets to the right, some sort of balance can be achieved. A balanced approach means putting everyone on a level playing field. Furthermore, rights are fundamental and must be respected. That is the kind of society that the member and I want to live in.