House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.

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The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-12, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (Part II) in respect of occupational health and safety, to make technical amendments to the Canada Labour Code (Part I) and to make consequential amendments to other acts, as reported (with amendment) from a committee.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Two motions in amendment are listed in the notice paper at the report stage of Bill C-12.

Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted on separately.

Motion No. 2 will be debated and voted on separately.

I shall now propose Motion No. 1 to the House.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Moncton
New Brunswick

Liberal

Claudette Bradshaw Minister of Labour

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-12, in Clause 2, be amended

(a) by replacing lines 20 and 21 on page 1 with the following:

“to cause injury or illness to a person exposed to it before the hazard or condition can be”

(b) by replacing line 25 on page 1 with the following:

“or activity, and includes any exposure to a”

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Whitby—Ajax
Ontario

Liberal

Judi Longfield Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, this amendment is to clarify the government's intentions with respect to changes being introduced to part II of the Canada Labour Code under Bill C-12. In making these amendments we want to emphasize that the special situations of pregnant and nursing mothers in the workplace are dealt with in the appropriate sections of the Canada Labour Code either under part II or part III.

In bringing this amendment forward the government wants to emphasize that it understands and shares the concerns for the protection of pregnant and nursing mothers which were raised by some members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations during detailed consideration of Bill C-12.

We are in accord with the need to ensure that appropriate legislation is in place to provide that protection. However, we do not think it appropriate to include the special situation of pregnant and nursing mothers in a general motion on the definition of danger such as was done during committee. The point of this amendment is to clarify that situation and to produce legislation that is designed to protect all workers under federal jurisdiction.

At the same time we clearly recognize the need to meet the challenges faced by pregnant and nursing mothers. In fact, the changes we have already brought forward under part II of the Canada Labour Code do provide for additional protection for pregnant and nursing mothers.

More specifically, under the changes that have already been accepted by the committee and which will be part of the new act is a section stating that women who believe their workplace presents a danger to their fetus, or in the case of nursing mothers to their baby, will have the right to remove themselves from the activity without loss of pay or benefits. This provision is found in section 132 of Bill C-12.

It says that a pregnant or nursing mother who believes her job creates a risk for herself, her fetus or her child will have the right to stop doing her work and take the necessary time to consult her physician to ascertain if she is really at risk. If there is indeed a risk, the employer can assign the woman to other duties in a safe location. I note that under new section 132 the pregnant or nursing employee who takes time off to seek the advice of her physician can do so without loss of pay or benefits.

We believe that the special situation of pregnant and nursing mothers should be addressed under sections of the code such as section 132 that deal specifically with their issues and not with sections that deal with general issues such as one that defines risk for workers in general.

It is important that all hon. members understand that the special situation of pregnant and nursing mothers is further addressed under part III of the Canada Labour Code. This is the part of the labour code that deals with labour standards.

Those who are interested in maternity related workplace issues can also be referred to the amendments that were made to part III of the labour code in 1993. The approach under part III is to support pregnant or nursing women to remain in the workplace in a risk free environment. The 1993 amendments provide for maternity related job modification, reassignment, leave and other benefits for pregnant and nursing women whose jobs pose a risk to herself, her fetus or her breast fed child.

Under the existing part III the following process is to be followed in the case of a pregnant or nursing mother in a risk related job situation. Employers are first required to modify the employee's job. If that is not possible, she must be assigned to a safe job. If no safe job option is available, leave is provided. Leave is seen as the last resort. In most cases women taking risk related leave would have access to salary replacement through employment insurance or a private insurance plan.

That leads me to remind colleagues about the comprehensive provisions that exist for maternity leave under EI. I am speaking of provisions such as 17 weeks of maternity leave and 24 weeks of parental leave, soon to be increased to 37 to mirror increases in allowable EI parental leave.

Part III of the Canada Labour Code also addresses the special needs of pregnant and nursing women in the workplace. The changes that we are making to part II complement these provisions.

This is still a situation that has our ongoing attention. The government is committed to making workplaces as family friendly as possible and that includes improving conditions for women in the workplace.

We have shown our concern and our willingness to strengthen the protection for pregnant and nursing mothers in the changes that we are now making to part II of the Canada Labour Code. We are open and willing to consider changes under part III. In fact, we are involved in active discussions respecting part III of the Canada Labour Code that would follow logically on the reviews of part I and part II done over the last few years.

With this in mind, we have interested parties representing labour and management convened as the labour standards client consultative committee which has already begun discussions on issues related to labour standards. I expect this group will be bringing recommendations for future consideration to the Minister of Labour.

The minister respects the efforts of labour, management and government to reach a tripartite consensus on challenging issues in the workplace. At this point however, the best interests of those affected by the legislation will be served by passing this amendment and thereby strengthening Bill C-12.

I therefore urge my colleagues in the House to vote in favour of this amendment so that we can finalize this important piece of legislation and send it to third reading without delay.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois was amazed to see that the definition of health, as amended in committee, with the support of the Liberal member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, was changed in the bill at the report stage.

This unacceptable correction to the work done in committee is designed, and this cannot be said in any other way, to deny pregnant or nursing women workers adequate protection, regardless of the other provisions of this bill.

The definition of “risk”, to someone who has worked in occupational health and safety, influences the decisions made at various stages by experts, bosses and adjudicators. This is out of the minister's hands.

Our parliamentary responsibility is to read the texts. What, then, was this amendment passed in committee? I will read it.

It read:

“danger” means any hazard or condition that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person exposed thereto—

But the following was added:

—including a woman who is pregnant or nursing and to the foetus of a pregnant woman—

These words are no longer in the bill at the report stage.

It read further:

—includes any exposure to working conditions that are likely to be dangerous to nursing mothers—

That too, which had been added and adopted by the committee with the support of a Liberal member, was withdrawn. This concerns me.

It means that, when the government says it will do something, it turns around and undoes it. Nobody better try to tell me that this is not significant, it is. What is incomprehensible once again is that this was passed by the committee.

Clearly it was not done to get the Bloc Quebecois to give the bill more support. We do not deny that, in some respects, the government tried to make improvements, but as concerns the health of pregnant or nursing women, the bill is far from what it ought to be.

This explains why, later on, we will introduce an amendment to enable working women in Quebec and the other provinces, at least, if they have better provisions, to benefit from Quebec's legislation and that of the other provinces, if they are better.

Under these conditions, the Bloc Quebecois is fiercely opposed to the bill. Women workers have long been waging these battles. It is unacceptable that women are not on an equal footing in a province like Quebec. Within a single establishment, women, because they are pregnant or nursing, have a plan that protects them, that protects the fetus or the child, and in other instances, there is no such plan. This is unacceptable.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been negotiations and I think you would find unanimous consent to have Motion No. 2, which is currently in my name, stand in the name of Mrs. Lalonde.

I seek the unanimous consent of the House to have Motion No. 2, which I moved, now stand in the name of the hon. member for Mercier.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to proceed in such a fashion?

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, in conclusion, I repeat that it makes no sense that pregnant or nursing employees do not have adequate protection and that, within one province, they do not enjoy the same protection under the federal and provincial labour relations legislation.

This is unacceptable and a disgrace. It is ridiculous that a country such as Canada, which boasts that it is a leader, does not protect pregnant and nursing workers. I cannot understand how the minister, with all her empathy, has not sorted this out, because it leaves a gaping hole in this legislation.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-12, a bill to amend part II of the Canada Labour Code. There are three parts to the Canada Labour Code and this bill deals only with part II. This part is the only part of the bill that covers the federal public service. Interestingly enough, House of Commons employees are not covered as are other members of the federal public service. That is something that has caused some concern and some comment.

Part II of the Canada Labour Code has not been significantly updated for 15 years. Even this update has a rather chequered past. It was first introduced just a few days before the last election writ was dropped, and of course died on the order paper when the House prorogued for the election.

It took the government another two years after the last election to reintroduce these changes to the Canada Labour Code, which has not been updated for 15 years. There seems to be a little foot-dragging on the part of the government in dealing with this issue.

One of the positive things about this bill is that there have been lengthy consultations between both employer groups and employee associations. The groups have reached a consensus on the kinds of changes they want to see in part II of the Canada Labour Code. They would like to see these changes brought in before the next election, which the Prime Minister is threatening to call very soon. Therefore, we are hopeful that these changes will pass through the process before the next election so that the next government will not have to start all over again.

The Canadian Alliance supports the amendments in Bill C-12. Amendments to the bill were brought forward by the standing committee. One of the concerns that has not been resolved between government and the stakeholders is the matter of the appeals process. The stakeholders, management groups and employee groups, agreed that there should be a two stage appeal process. Currently, if a safety officer issues a directive, then that directive can be appealed to a regional safety officer and, if there is concern about the decision in that appeal, a further review by the Canada Industrial Relations Board is possible.

Bill C-12 would change the regional safety officer to an appeals officer. This person would be appointed by the minister and would be given quasi-judicial powers. A decision rendered by an appeals officer would be final.

There is real concern that the one stage quasi-judicial process would not be sufficient to protect the rights and the democratic protections that workers should have. There is a proposal that recourse should be given from a ruling by an appeals officer to the Public Service Staff Relations Board.

We would support such an amendment. We believe, in fairness, that there should be a two stage appeal process. It is interesting that in almost all of its operations the government supports multi-levels of appeal, particularly, for example, in the immigration department. In fact there have been criticisms that there are too many stages of appeal in some government departments. However, in this case the government seems to be wanting to limit the ability of employers and employees to make sure there is a very clear and well considered final result.

The Canadian Alliance agrees with the whole philosophy behind Bill C-12; that is, that health and safety in the workplace is the responsibility of every person at the work site. This is an important issue to be addressed. It is important issue to have updated regulations. Between 30 and 40 workers in federally regulated workplaces die every year on the job, and another 60,000 suffer occupational injuries or illness.

This is a very important matter of concern for Canadians. Occupational injuries and illness not only cost the people and families involved, as well as the employers, they also cost the Canadian economy almost $5 billion a year. Most of us would agree that an extra $5 billion of productivity could be very well spent on things like health care, education and other services for Canadians.

It is clear that government legislation and regulations alone cannot promote a healthy workplace or prevent accidents. In any workplace, if accidents are to be prevented, everyone must be involved.

I refer the House to a report released in November, which was prepared by the British Columbia Workers' Compensation Board. British Columbia has very stringent health and safety laws. Unfortunately, the November report showed that these stringent laws were doing little to curb workplace fatalities. It is very clear that a bill such as Bill C-12, which involves everyone, both employers and employees, in making sure that our workplaces in Canada are safe and secure to protect the well-being of workers, is very important.

I urge the House to support Bill C-12. I urge the House to support the appeal proposal and I urge the government to ensure that the bill is passed and receives royal assent before the next election.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place between the parties and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca concerning the taking of the division on Motion No. 30, scheduled at the conclusion of Private Members' Business today, and I believe you would find consent for the following motion:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on Motion M-30 all questions necessary to dispose of the said motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, May 30, 2000, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent in the House to proceed in the fashion described by the hon. deputy whip of the government?

Business Of The House
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-12, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (Part II) in respect of occupational health and safety, to make technical amendments to the Canada Labour Code (Part I) and to make consequential amendments to other acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, the first amendment we are dealing with today seeks to reverse an amendment that was passed at the committee stage, moved by a member of the Bloc Quebecois, that would amend the definition of danger to make reference to pregnant and nursing mothers.

I want to say by way of opening that the NDP finds no fault whatsoever and agrees to a large degree with many of the points made by the recent speaker from the Bloc Quebec. One of the most compelling representations made to the standing committee dealing with Bill C-12 was one put forward by Professor Katherine Lippel from the University of Quebec at Montreal.

The NDP caucus certainly concurs with many of the things she pointed out about the importance of taking extra measures and extra steps in the workplace to protect the special interests of pregnant and nursing mothers. I am glad to point out that the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in her recent address to the House also seems to agree these are valid issues that need to be dealt with in the Canada Labour Code at some point.

In order to protect the health of pregnant workers, their unborn children or children who are nursing, our party believes that it is necessary for workers to have the right to be reassigned to tasks that do not present a danger to their health or the health of the unborn child or the nursing child.

If the reassignment of these workers to other less hazardous work is not feasible, the workers should be allowed to withdraw from work and be compensated thoroughly or without any loss. Workers should be made whole and should be able to feel free to leave the workplace without jeopardizing either their income, opportunity or ability to re-enter the workforce after the nursing period or the pregnancy is over at the same stage as they left.

If we were serious about putting a true right to protective reassignment in place to protect the unborn child or the nursing child, it is important that it permits the withdrawal of work without penalty. That is a key point which I believe the member from the Bloc made. I believe the member was motivated to make that point because the law in Quebec provides for that. In that regard the law in Quebec is far more favourable to pregnant and nursing mothers than the Canada Labour Code.

I wanted to preface my remarks by saying how wholeheartedly we agree with the concept and how we look forward to the day when the Canada Labour Code is amended to accommodate pregnant and nursing mothers in that fashion. I also want to point out that Bill C-12 is the product of exhaustive consultations between labour and management over the past seven years across Canada.

The experts in the field, the actual stakeholders and practitioners in industrial relations in the federal jurisdiction, have viewed every clause and every aspect of the bill. They did not seek to amend the definition of danger when the recommendations were finally put forward to government and when government finally tabled Bill C-12. Even at every stage of Bill C-12 to this point, neither the labour community nor the management community in the federal sector has felt it necessary to amend the definition of danger as it stands in the act.

The NDP is of the view that Bill C-12 has much merit and is eagerly anticipated by those who practise in the federal jurisdiction. It has such a possibility of protecting the health and safety of workers in the workplace that we are very reluctant to enter into any kind of amendments at this stage that may delay the speedy passage of Bill C-12.

The best thing that could possibly happen is that Bill C-12 gets through report stage, gets into third reading, and gets passed through the Senate prior to the end of this session of the House. If it is left over to the fall, we are fearful that it may jeopardize the progress that has been made through the process of consultation, negotiation and now debate in the House of Commons.

I liken it to a lengthy and exhaustive round of collective bargaining. Seven years ago labour and management sat down at the table to start to review part II of the Canada Labour Code. Both parties came to the table with a number of issues they wanted dealt with. They exhaustively went through clause by clause every aspect of part II of the Canada Labour Code.

Both sides showed real generosity and a spirit of compromise to make it work. Everyone had to compromise their positions and temper their demands with reason so they could put together a package that would be palatable, would serve the needs of their industrial sector, and ultimately protect the rights of workers.

Bill C-12 achieves that in most regards. One of the gains we look forward to in Bill C-12 is the strengthening of the rights of workplace safety and health committees so that they might better oversee the conditions in the workplace to make sure that they do not present any danger to workers.

It allows for regulations that every employer has to establish and monitor a prevention program for the workplace. These are big moves to anyone who actually knows the realities of this industrial sector of federal jurisdiction. To actually have agreed on issues like that one shows huge movement and great progress.

Whereas we are sympathetic to the issue raised by the member from the Bloc at committee, we believe the Canada Labour Code should deal with the rights of pregnant and nursing mothers, but not in part II. Frankly part III of the Canada Labour Code is the area which deals with the reassignment of pregnant or nursing mothers if they feel there is some risk to their health in the workplace.

I should point out that part III is currently being reviewed and amended by the same exhaustive process which we dealt with in part II. We are satisfied the experts in the field, the true practitioners in the field, will be seized of the issue and will make recommendations to amend part III to give satisfaction to those who are concerned about the issue and to those who believe, as we do, that the current code does not go far enough to look after the special interests of that group of workers.

We also believe that it would be wrong at this point to change the definition of danger in part II of the code to specifically point out any group of workers. The definition of danger should be a general clause that deals with all workers in the jurisdiction. It should not point out any particular occupation, trade, gender or age group.

To be truly legally effective, the definition of danger has to be a very general term that will stand up to any challenge from any sector. We believe it was a mistake, although a well meaning mistake, at the committee to seek to amend the definition of danger to specifically refer to any type of worker.

The last and final point is that the only reason we find it necessary to oppose the amendment passed at committee and therefore vote in favour of the amendment we currently have in front of us is the very real fear that if this were subject to review, challenges or exhaustive interpretations by the judicial department, or even if it ran into problems at the Senate because it may add some unnecessary complications to the definition of danger, we may run the risk of delaying the whole bill and losing the opportunity to pass it in this session of the House.

For that reason I urge all members to vote in favour of the motion we have in front of us, which would reverse the vote made at committee to include pregnant and nursing mothers in the definition of danger in clause 2 of part II of the Canada Labour Code.