House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was air.

Topics

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I am surprised that the minister would suggest that there is a big problem out there, but I appreciate his support for my proposal. If he is correct and I am inundated with complaints, then there is a problem. That is good for all of us. We should all know that. The airlines should know it. The minister should know it. The Transportation Safety Board and all the agencies should understand this.

I believe there is a bottleneck in communications between consumers, the airlines and the agencies involved. The vice-chair of the committee said that consumers have no access to the system, which is what I propose to provide. I propose to provide access to the system so consumers who have problems can approach either the airlines through an ombudsman, through my office, through the Transportation Safety Board or whatever. If anyone wants to join our party, it is caseyb@parl.gc.ca.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock as 1.30 p.m. so that we could proceed to Private Members' Business?

Canada Transportation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from February 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-238, an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (mail contractors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

March 31st, 2000 / 1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Madam Speaker, I just want to speak very briefly to the bill. I know we cannot ask questions in Private Members' Business so I will make a speech with a question in it.

If the sponsor of the bill, the member for Winnipeg Centre, who I believe will get a few minutes at the end of Private Members' Business to wrap up, could listen to the question, he perhaps could work an answer into his remarks.

I personally will support this legislation. I have had a lot of contact with the rural mail couriers in my riding. It does seem to be quite an anomaly that mail service in a rural area would be treated differently than in an urban area.

Although I agree in principle with the intention of the bill, I am wondering if anywhere in this process there are safeguards or guarantees for the existing contractors who are conducting the service presently. I was on the phone with them this morning and I know they are very supportive of the bill. However, my fear is that what might be happening here is an expansion of the membership of the postal union, and these particular contractors, having fought for the right to be part of the bargaining unit, may very well in the end not be the actual people who end up getting these jobs.

I realize that concern could be addressed in committee, but hopefully the sponsor of the bill would reflect on that a little and perhaps outline some options or processes that we might want to take a look at to make sure it is not necessarily a thinly veiled attempt to push these contractors out; that they will actually be the ones who are in the queue and have access to these more secure jobs.

I again congratulate the member for bringing the bill before the House. I look forward, if he gets a chance, to his speaking to that issue in his rebuttal at the end of the hour.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-238 put forward by the member for Winnipeg Centre.

The bill basically is an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act to repeal section 13(5) of the act dealing with rural route mail couriers.

What section 13(5) deems is that rural route couriers are not dependent contractors and are therefore not eligible to collectively bargain or form an association so they can negotiate contracts with Canada Post. In other words, they cannot form a union.

Repealing this section would allow rural route couriers basically to join the public workers' union. Although we agree with the concerns that the bill highlights, we do not agree with the solution.

Currently rural route mail couriers must submit a tender for their jobs and then negotiate with Canada Post.

The problem is that Canada Post does not have a tendering or contract guideline to ensure that the process is fair. This is the crux of the problem that the rural route couriers have. Many members in the House have rural areas in their ridings, as I do, and have heard about this issue many times.

As a result, many rural route mail couriers feel they are working under extremely poor conditions and substandard wages. For example, Canada Post officials are forcing independent contractors to lower their bids in order to maintain their contracts. Unfair limitations are being placed on their ability to act as independent contractors. These problems need to be addressed.

Four years ago when the Canadian Alliance was the Reform Party, I was critic for public works. George Radwanski tabled an exceptionally good report dealing with Canada Post issues. A couple of the issues are quite relevant to this discussion. One is that Radwanski found:

The corporation is not subject to any adequately effective accountability mechanisms. Neither the minister responsible for Canada Post, nor any branch of the government, nor even the corporation's own board of directors has any way of providing the sustained supervision necessary to ensure that its priorities and behaviour are fully consistent with the public interest.

This is the crux of the matter. We have people in Canada Post who are running their own show. It is supposed to be a corporation for all Canadians, yet it is not being run in that manner.

We agree with the member that rural couriers are being done in. They are not being treated fairly. However, where we disagree with the member is on how to deal with this problem. We feel the mechanisms within Canada Post need to be addressed rather than unionizing those postal workers.

Radwanski also found that Canada Post businesses practices were aggressive and unfair. It is no surprise to hear the concerns of the rural route couriers coming forward. However, as I have said, we feel that repealing subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act, as proposed in the bill, is not the answer.

Eliminating subsection 13(5) will eliminate the tendering process and prevent anyone other than a union member from vying for the job of a rural route mail courier. We think that is wrong. In other words, the bill overreaches what we feel is the stated intention.

Bill C-238 creates an ungainly situation where several unions may be competing for the same members. The bill may also lead to a conflict of interest between what a dependent contractor is and what their employers are. We feel that there are other options available. As it stands, the tendering and contract process is not fair, not honest and is simply not above board. The way to go is to fix that problem and the rural route problem will be fixed.

The basic issue is that we need a mechanism that obliges Canada Post to conduct fair and open tendering processes within its contracts. Everyone needs to know what the conditions are. This is the principle of the issue we are facing today. If we could fix the contract tendering process I believe we would solve the problem. As well, if the mechanism is not put in place to guarantee these conditions, the Canadian Alliance will investigate the possibility of making treasury board contracting policy applicable in this case.

In summary, we agree there is a problem that has clearly been identified by the member. We disagree with his manner of solving it. We do not believe that eliminating the section is the solution. We believe the solution is to deal with Canada Post to get fair tendering processes in place which will solve the issue.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the bill. I begin by congratulating the member for Winnipeg Centre for introducing the bill, which is an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act. I also acknowledge the member from the Liberal Party who indicated that he was planning to support the bill when it comes to a vote next week and for correctly describing it as an anomaly. Rural route mail couriers are somehow treated much differently and much worse than members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and other employees.

I find it passing strange that a few short weeks ago we had a backbench Liberal MP stand to ask a pointed and loaded question to allow the cabinet minister responsible to highlight the new three year agreement between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. At the same time here we are two or three weeks later turning around and apparently not going to offer reasonable rates and working conditions to folks who are delivering rural mail.

I would like to dedicate this speech to a woman who is a long time friend of mine, Doris Woodbeck. For many years she was the rural route mail courier in picturesque Prince Edward County in the Bloomfield area. Doris Woodbeck was virtually a second mother to me. She delivered mail through snow and sleet and freezing rain and all other things that our mail couriers are expected to do. She is a wonderful individual.

The people who have followed in Doris' footsteps, perhaps in her snow tires, are having some real problems these days because of the wages and working conditions. Most rural route mail couriers barely earn minimum wage. Their working conditions are reminiscent of another era.

The Canada Post Corporation can terminate their employment with just 90 days of notice. There are no standard work rules. Some RRMCs have more than one route. They get paid for delivering certain products on one route although they do not get paid for service on another. Work rules are changed arbitrarily and often with virtually no notice.

During snow storms RRMCs are routinely forced to shovel out the group boxes on their routes, again without compensation. They have to train and pay their own replacements. They are provided with basic supplies. Postal workers at some offices collect used elastic bands and give them to rural route mail couriers because Canada Post refuses to provide such basic necessities.

I would like the members present to listen to what some mail couriers are saying:

With a working relationship like this, it's almost impossible for us to obtain better wages and working conditions on our own. And we're not allowed to bargain collectively like other workers. Section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act prohibits RRMCs from having collective bargaining rights. This is a denial of basic rights.

This the subsection the member for Winnipeg Centre is trying to have repealed.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems is in the tendering process, as has been acknowledged, because the mail couriers have to bid on their routes. When they submit their bids they are often told they must accept the contract for less than they were making before.

The argument is that if they do not like it they can always quit. As a rule mail couriers find it difficult to complain about their working conditions because they know that their contracts can be pulled on 90 days of notice. With a working relationship like this one it is almost impossible for them to obtain better wages and working conditions. They are not allowed to bargain collectively as other workers are.

In 1986 the Canada Post Corporation applied to the Canada Labour Relations Board to review the structure of bargaining units at Canada Post. The Association of Rural Route Couriers applied for a standing at those hearings. A year later the labour relations board issued its decision which noted that the definition of a defending contractor included two basic criteria: economic dependence and an obligation to perform duties for another person. These criteria are reviewed from the perspective of administrative control and integration.

The CLRB decision was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that while mail couriers may meet the requirements of employees under the Canada Labour Code, the CLRB exceeded its jurisdiction when ruling that subsection 13(5) did not apply.

The federal court recognizes that without this section the employees concerned would have benefited from all rights provided in the code. The federal court notes that subsection 13(5) is legal fiction designed to set aside reality. It also clearly recognizes that the purpose of this provision is to deny these workers the right to collective bargaining.

We move forward to today and the Liberal government did not ensure that the RRMCs were protected and that their conditions were improved. It simply denied them the right to protect themselves and to improve their conditions through collective bargaining.

Depriving collective bargaining rights is a denial of basic rights; a violation of the principles conveyed and promoted in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came into effect a full 15 years ago now; a violation of our international commitments including the North American Free Trade Agreement; and a violation of the ILO, which the government proudly frequently says was one of the first signatories and which concerns itself with freedom of association and protection of the right to organize in the international covenant on civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.

Two years ago in the first budget, which I had the honour and privilege of being in the House of Commons to hear, the federal government promised us that it would “look at new ways to deliver information and programs so that rural Canadians are full participants in Canada's future prosperity”.

We hope the government's promise to look at new ways of delivering information and programs is not just another way of saying that it will find cheaper ways of exploiting rural Canadians who deliver information and programs.

To date we feel the Liberal government has dodged the thorny issue of subsection 13(5). Postal critics for the Bloc, ourselves, and the party to my left have already sent letters on the issue to the minister responsible.

In conclusion, it is generally recognized that subsection 13(5) is a denial of basic rights, which helps Canada Post keep the wages and working conditions of rural workers at an unfair and impossible level. There is growing consensus that it should be repealed quickly. It is time that rural route mail couriers had access to collective bargaining rights which would allow them to protect themselves and to improve their working conditions.

Getting rid of subsection 13(5) would allow RRMCs to do this in a variety of ways. It would allow them to have access to the provisions of the Canada Labour Code. It would give them time to change the system by which they are forced to sign long term contracts. It would enable them to establish reasonable work rules so that CPC managers no longer respond to complaints by saying that if they do not like it they can quit. It would provide a method of submitting grievances when rules surrounding workloads or starting times are arbitrarily changed. Most important, it would end the pattern in which the financial objectives of Canada Post have been pursued by driving increasing numbers of rural route mail couriers into poverty.

For Doris Woodbeck and the 5,000 rural route mail couriers who are currently on the job, we wish them well. We trust that when this comes to a vote on Tuesday there will be a clear majority in the House of Commons to repeal subsection 13(5) of this act.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I certainly want to engage in this debate and to comment on what the hon. member was saying and on some of the faults in the private member's bill he brought forward.

It is obvious to those of us who live in rural Canada that rural mail couriers are not treated fairly and that the tendering system has numerous and obvious faults in it. However our argument would be that unionization of rural mail couriers is not the way to deal with this issue specifically. There are a number of issues.

The hon. member's bill forth not only allows for unionization of rural mail couriers, it also allows for unionization of numerous other postal employees. They are all lumped together in one bill. For that reason mainly the bill is extremely flawed.

The member speaks specifically to section 13(5). Section 13(5) is why the Conservative Party still supports rural mail couriers. Some people have argued that this section discriminates against rural mail couriers. I remind hon. members that the Federal Court of Canada ruled on May 29, 1990 that there were no grounds for a claim of discrimination on the basis of gender or differential treatment between urban and rural residents.

We know that this bill is not the answer to the shabby treatment rural mail couriers have received from Canada Post. As much as I appreciate and support the efforts by the member for Winnipeg Centre to deal with this issue, he really has not dealt with it. What can we do?

MPs from my party, especially the member for Tobique—Mactaquac, have met on numerous occasions with individual mail contractors, with representatives of the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers and with representatives of Canada Post to try to resolve some of these outstanding issues. We have made a difference.

Earlier this year the post office introduced a series of new measures which I hope will alleviate a great number of the difficulties contractors have had in the past. These include the following. Rural routes will be contracted on an individual contractor basis. Contractors who in turn subcontract out their routes at a reduced price known as master contractors will no longer be eligible to renew their rural contract. If a master contractor previously held the route, the previous employee or the subcontractor actually performing the work will be the first potential supplier offered the contract at renewal. Rural contracts will be issued for five years with a five year renewal option based on satisfactory performance and tendered after 10 years.

Many other changes have been instituted as well. A negotiated adjustment will be included for the five year renewal option to ensure that market conditions such as inflation are considered. A quality and performance component will be included in the contract renewal and awarding process to recognize the past performance of incumbent contractors. The evaluation of tenders will be based on criteria such as experience, service performance and reliability, image and then cost.

In addition when the contracts are up for bid, Canada Post will make contractors aware of the specifications of the routes they will be performing such as the number of points of call, daily kilometres, number of stops for personal contract items and the amount of ad mail they can expect to deliver. These numbers will be updated annually or more frequently if a significant change occurs, and contractors will be compensated for these changes.

The post office has prepared a handbook, what it calls a delivery reference manual, for its mail contractors. The purpose of the manual is to provide assistance and guidance with a reference book and a phone directory of key individuals at Canada Post they can call when a problem arises. In conjunction with this, local supervisors and postmasters will be provided with an operator's handbook and support training material to assist them in working with contractors.

These measures probably will not prevent disputes from arising. However I feel that the changes announced will bring much greater fairness and openness to the relationship between rural mail contractors and the post office. It also does not preclude additional changes to be made to further affect rural mail couriers to give them a better opportunity to make a living and earn a fair wage. It certainly does not preclude changes being made to the act in the future.

Our party will continue to work with and listen to rural mail contractors to ensure that they earn a fair wage, that they are treated fairly and that Canada Post deals with problems that arise in a timely and equitable manner.

In closing, we have to move away from the tactics that Canada Post has employed against rural mail couriers in the past. Frankly, many of those tactics would have been better off in Chicago in the 1930s than in Canada in the 21st century. We obviously have to make a change.

If the member reviewed his bill and made some fundamental changes to the way it was written, it would be a better piece of legislation. It would be something that would actually help rural mail couriers, and would not confuse the issue of rural mail couriers with a lot of other issues and a lot of other subcontractors at Canada Post.

We can continue to provide service in rural Canada. I depend upon a rural mail courier. He is a very good friend of mine. I have to cross the road to reach my mail box. I understand the difficulties facing mail couriers. The weather is only one of the things they face. The other thing is that quite often my mail box may not be shovelled out as well as it should be. I appreciate the extra work that all Canadians get from rural mail couriers.

We can continue to support rural mail couriers. We can continue to look for opportunities for them to make a better living.

Bill C-238 is not a bad bill, but it has some serious flaws and that is why we will not be supporting this piece of legislation. I would certainly encourage the hon. member to review the bill, to improve it, to take some of the obvious mistakes out of it and to bring it back to the House. We would then take another look at it.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I too want to say a few words on the private member's bill put forward by the member for Winnipeg Centre.

It is a very enlightened bill in that it is fair minded and very balanced in terms of dealing with the basic rights of people who are being discriminated against compared to other letter carriers in the same business.

I want to say at the outset that I was very disappointed to hear the member from the Reform Party and the member from the Progressive Conservative Party say that they would not support this bill which would allow rural mail couriers to unionize as letter carriers in the city who do similar and comparable work can unionize. I ask those hon. members, where is their sense of fairness and their sense of balance in terms of a basic fundamental human right, the right to organize, the right to free collective bargaining and the right to have equality in the same company or the same corporation? I am not so surprised that the Reform Party will oppose this bill, but I am surprised to hear that the Progressive Conservative Party, which tends to be a bit more enlightened on these matters, say it will oppose this very positive bill.

Canada Post Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

It is the new Canadian Alliance.