House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Brampton Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons I am pleased to present today, in both official languages, the government's response to the first report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration entitled “The Safe Third Country Regulations”.

National Defence Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Markham
Ontario

Liberal

John McCallum Minister of National Defence

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-35, an act to amend the National Defence Act (remuneration of military judges).

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Health.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 28th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning the membership and associate membership of committees of the House, and I should like to move concurrence at this time.

(Motion agreed to)

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

moved:

That this House recognize the urgency of amending the Canada Labour Code to ban the use of strikebreakers.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise the House that, on this important opposition day, the members of the Bloc Quebecois will be splitting their time.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak today on a motion that is dear to the hearts of all of us in the Bloc Quebecois.

First, I would like to greet all workers, especially the workers of Quebec. This day is dedicated to them. We are thinking of them and have decided that this day would be their day.

Hon. members are aware of my interest in anti-scab measures. Last Tuesday, moreover, my bill was before the House and I sensed a certain support for it. I am anxious to see what the reaction will be on second reading. I am also anxious to hear my colleagues in the House of Commons share their visions or perceptions of this motion, and to have some idea of what interest this matter raises.

In the riding of each member of this Parliament, there are workers who are covered by the Canada Labour Code, so each MP has a concern in this bill.

As hon. members know, it is important for collective bargaining to be carried out in a civilized manner. Anti-scab legislation would make collective bargaining between employers, employees and unions possible . Obviously, giving workers some power to bargain with their employers often means shorter strikes and less bargaining time, and ensures that both parties are satisfied at the end of the day. Therefore, it is necessary to bargain in a civilized manner.

Having seen how some disputes degenerate, I know industrial peace is important. It is always sad to see strikebreaking. People have just about had it after 10 or 12 months of bargaining. The Cargill workers have been locked out for nearly four years now. One can well imagine their state of mind: imagine how they feel every day when they want to picket and see replacement workers taking their place, doing their job in their workplace. It is absolutely unacceptable that this is still going on in 2003.

In Quebec, we have had an anti-strikebreaking law since 1977. Here are some figures from Statistics Canada, which therefore are reliable. Just prior to Quebec's legislation, in 1976, the average number of working days lost was 39.4. In 1979, it fell to 32.8. In 2001, it was 27.4 days. Imagine that. After all, 27 days is quite reasonable. It is certainly better than 10 months.

It has taken 10 months at Vidéotron; 10 months during which mothers could not buy Christmas presents for their children, because they were getting a meagre $200 a week to be able to bargain. You know that the purpose of the situation at Vidéotron was to have some employees reinstated. It was to ensure that workers did not lose their jobs. The people who demonstrated did so in order to protect their fellow workers, and rightly so. It took 10 months. That is unacceptable. Therefore, we are talking about industrial peace.

With respect to the balance of bargaining power between employers and employees, it is certain that if an employer decides it does not want to bargain with its employees and, by roundabout means, succeeds in hiring replacement workers and shuts the door on bargaining, the dispute can last forever. Obviously, if there is a balance of power, the two parties will sit down at the bargaining table and the return to work will be much more peaceful.

It is also time to put an end to the existence of two categories of workers in Quebec: those who already have this right under the Quebec labour code and those under federal jurisdiction who do not. This must end.

British Columbia also has anti-scab legislation. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick, because they saw that it works well in Quebec and has been successful, are now holding discussions and negotiating to introduce anti-scab legislation too.

I would also like to congratulate my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois who, for the past ten years, having been trying to introduce anti-scab legislation here, in this Parliament. I cannot name them all because they are many, but they have all worked hard. They almost succeeded on several occasions. The last time, it was 104 against 114. I hope that, this time, all the members of Parliament here today and during the vote will think hard before voting and will ensure that they are truly representing their constituents and workers in their ridings, and that they will vote the way these people want them to, and not the way they are told to vote. It is essential that members consult their constituents.

I am going to read the following letter because it deserves to be read, and I was deeply moved by it. A woman in Verdun who works for Vidéotron sent me a copy of her letter to the Prime Minister. I am going to quote from it. She says:

On May 8, I will have been unemployed for one year. One reason it has been so long is simple: my federal government has let me down. By refusing to protect the right of workers to strike, your government has left me high and dry. If jobs and the economy of your country were important to you, you would react by implementing serious legislation protecting the right of Canadian workers to strike. By letting companies rule the state for a minority's benefit, the government is openly allowing the pauperization of a growing number of workers. By closing its eyes to never-ending labour disputes and the harsh reality faced by these workers, the government is favouring business leaders over workers.

This is from an e-mail message sent to me by a woman. She was very happy to see that we had taken this initiative to introduce anti-strikebreaking legislation. There are also a great number of unions who have expressed their support, who have written us and who are doing an incredible job organizing their members to get them to sign a petition that I presented, and that is circulating across Canada and Quebec. This is important. In the coming weeks we will see just how many people really are concerned, want the government to understand that we need anti-scab legislation and will sign this petition.

I would be remiss if I did not mention some recent cases. As I said earlier, in the case of Vidéotron, the dispute lasted ten long months. That has an impact on all of the economy. It does not hurt just one business, but the entire economy of a region. Employees who do not have any money no longer function in the system. Often, they go into debt. They no longer have the means to pay their rent or their electricity bill. That is not good for society. Ten months is terribly long. These people suffered because there was no anti-scab legislation to help them.

The Secur case is also incredible. We know that there was also strikebreaking in the case of Secur. We cannot approve of this, but we know that when it happens, it is because people are at the end of their rope and there are no other resources. For this reason, we need to have anti-scab legislation.

There is the case of Radio Nord Communications, where employees are currently on strike. These people need this legislation to get their employer to bargain with them in good faith, which is not the case at present.

I would like to tell all the workers of Quebec and Canada that this is a serious issue for us, that this is not the first time that I have introduced legislation of this type. We have chosen this for our opposition day because it is an issue that is a priority for us. I again want to applaud workers. I invite them to demonstrate their support for this bill.

Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my previous professional life, that is before I was a member of Parliament, I worked for 16 years in the field of labour relations. I must confess that I always worked on the employer's side, and that employer was a pulp and paper company.

I commend the member for Laurentides for her speech, which, unfortunately, was very short. She should have asked for the unanimous consent of the House to continue for another 30 minutes. In short, I will put my question to her as quickly as possible so that she can make her views known.

The reason Quebec's anti-scab legislation was passed during the review of Quebec's labour code in 1977 was to eliminate all the violence in labour disputes.

You will recall that in Quebec, in 1973, there was a labour dispute in Longueuil, at United Aircraft, now known as Pratt & Whitney. That dispute led to confrontations. We must put ourselves in the shoes of the workers, who were exercising democratically their right to go on strike and who, every morning, saw buses go by, with darkened windows covered with wire mesh, filled with people coming to take their jobs. We can imagine how frustrated they were.

I would like to hear the comments of the member for Laurentides on this. If she has enough time, she could also talk about the human consequences of a labour dispute on the women, children and young people who are also affected, unfortunately.

Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague. I know that he cares deeply about the well-being of workers in his area. It is an issue that he and I often discuss.

It is obvious that a protracted labour dispute has severe consequences on families. We know that the number of single-parent families is growing. In fact, a news report on Vidéotron employees showed that some of these employees were single women living with several children, and they had to tighten their belts and even go into debt just to pay for the bare necessities of life.

This is unacceptable in today's society. It puts more pressure on our health care system, and we certainly do not need that. Indeed, these people become nervous, and they fall sick. We must also consider costs related to indebtedness and the negative impact that it has on the economy.

This has to stop. Anti-scab legislation would solve all these problems and ensure that bargaining was quick and in good faith. The average of 27.4 working days lost in 2001 in Quebec is a record. If we do not have such legislation at the federal level, labour disputes will get longer and longer over time, which will cause even more problems in Quebec and in Canada.

There are no costs associated with this kind of measure, but the government must have the political courage to do it. I would like to see this political courage, when the bill reaches second reading stage and members opposite do not hesitate to vote for it. In fact, several of them did so before, and I hope that they will do so again.

In any case, they will be held accountable by their constituents in the next elections. They will go to see workers and ask them to vote for them. If they did not support the anti-scab bill, workers will certainly remember.

Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise in this House today. I would like to congratulate my colleague from Laurentides for her initiative and commitment to workers.

This day is also a unique opportunity to salute the exceptional contribution of all those who, day after day, are helping build our society. It is worth mentioning. We must also pay tribute to all those workers who, through the years, have fought an epic struggle to have their rights recognized and respected.

For parliamentarians, this special day is a special opportunity to take stock of our contribution as legislators to the working world and more specifically to the important issue of labour relations. In this regard one of our major responsibilities is to facilitate the exercise of healthy and fair labour relations in our businesses and public agencies in order to optimize economic development and minimize the chances of labour disputes, strikes or lockouts, as well as their negative impacts on society especially for those involved in such disputes.

I would like to mention some of those negative impacts: a drop in productivity both locally and globally, especially in small ridings or in smaller areas such as Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, for instance, in my riding; a drop in revenue for businesses and public agencies; a drop in income resulting in lower buying power for workers involved in the dispute; the possibility of major social unrest as a result of the dispute, and a higher debt load for the families concerned. I could keep on going, with even greater eloquence, but I would run out of time.

The list of negative impacts could be a lot longer, but these few examples are enough to illustrate the harm caused by these disputes and show the importance of doing everything possible to keep them to a minimum.

Among the major factors that can contribute to the prevention of disputes, or at least greatly limit their negative impacts, for a number of years the Bloc Quebecois has been pushing a bill that has been consistently blocked by the Liberal government. I am talking about Bill C-328, which is aimed at eliminating the regressive use of scabs during strikes or lockouts in businesses governed by the Canada Labour Code.

The Bloc Quebecois' first attempt to get the Canadian government to introduce this legislation prohibiting the use of scabs was in 1989 and targeted only Crown corporations. This bill was debated at second reading, but it is important to note that the Liberal Party, which was then in the opposition, voted in favour.

All of the Bloc Quebecois' subsequent attempts were flatly rejected by the Liberal Party, which has since been in power in the House of Commons. This was the case in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2001, as well as five times in 2002. Today, we are debating Bill C-328 at second reading.

It is also important to note that meanwhile, the Liberal government introduced, in 1988, Bill C-19 amending Part I of the Canadian Labour Code governing staff relations, but this legislation contained no provision prohibiting the use of strikebreakers. It met with strong opposition from several Quebec unions and the Bloc Quebecois categorically refused to support the bill.

Why is the government so set against the introduction of such measures, when we know that similar legislation has existed in Quebec since December 1977 and that it has had very conclusive positive effects? One need only mention a few of these positive effects. For instance, the number of working days lost from 1992 to 2002 averaged 15.9 under the Quebec Labour Code, compared to 31.1 under the Canada Labour Code. This is a difference of 95.6%.

Here is another example: the number of days lost for every 1,000 employees between 1992 and 2002 was 121.3 under the Quebec Labour Code compared to 266.3 under the Canada Labour Code, a difference of 119.5%.

Of course, figures do not tell the whole story, but they are revealing enough to require the government to do a serious study of the issue, a course I urge it to take. If these data are not persuasive enough, allow me to mention a few more examples of major disputes in Quebec companies governed by the Canada Labour Code, some of which are still dragging on. There is reason for concern.

Among others, there was the Vidéotron case. That dispute lasted 10 months and caused the loss of 355,340 workdays in Quebec. More than one third of all workdays lost in Quebec in 2002 were lost because of labour disputes.

There was the case of Secur, a dispute that caused the loss of 43,400 workdays. There is Cargill, where the lockout has been going on for over three years, affecting 43 employees in Baie-Comeau. There is also the case of Radio-Nord Communications, on strike since October 25, 2002, involving the employees of three television stations and two radio stations in northwestern Quebec.

In my view, these cases illustrate the urgent need for the Liberal government to amend the federal legislation and put an end to the use of strikebreakers, and thus encourage the fair and civilized settlement of labour disputes in Quebec. Amending the legislation would also make it possible to put an end to the absurd situation by which there are two classes of worker in Quebec—those governed by the Quebec Labour Code and the unlucky ones governed by the Canada Labour Code.

It is a question of equity, justice and social harmony. I also hope that this May 1, Workers' Day in most of the world, will be an opportunity for the federal Liberal government to think seriously about the damaging effects of its inaction with respect to the use of strikebreakers, and that it will make a positive gesture toward the working men and women of Quebec and Canada by supporting Bill C-328 introduced by my hon. friend from Laurentides.

Workers' Day is a fine occasion for the Liberal government to send a clear signal about its intentions with respect to this bill.

This is an issue about which I care deeply. I spoke earlier about my riding. We are all concerned about everyday problems and the fact that businesses and organizations are going through such disputes.

I am pleased to know that we have the support of three Bloc members in the Saguenay—Lac Saint Jean area. I invite my hon. friend, the Liberal member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, to join with us as well.

I am happy to have had the opportunity to express myself on this matter in this House, and I wish the hon. member for Laurentides great success with her bill.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay on his speech.

I have seen the employees of Cargill picketing along the shore in Baie-Comeau. That labour dispute has dragged on for three years and is about to be resolved, because the people have approved the report of the conciliator. However, it is important to note that a three-year strike is totally unacceptable. Such an example shows how, in the absence of anti-scab legislation, workers are at the mercy of their employers in areas where the use of strikebreakers is a well-established practice. We need to put a stop to that and what we have here is a very telling example.

Radio Nord Communications is another case in point in a totally different area, the telecommunications sector, but still in Quebec, in the Abitibi—Témiscamingue region to be more specific. It raises the issue of the information made available in a region facing the same problems. For instance, in my riding, I have seen workers of Vidéotron picketing on Lafontaine Street. These people wanted the labour dispute resolved, but they also told me, “What we are hoping for ultimately is anti-scab legislation that would give us the same rights the rest of Quebec workers are enjoying”.

Would the proposal brought forward by my hon. colleague from Laurentides not in fact significantly reduce the length of some strikes? It would improve labour relations and ensure better living conditions for many families.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed important to have such measures. We have to do everything necessary to get this bill passed. Thus, we encourage all our parliamentary colleagues to support this bill. It would enable us to resolve many of the current labour disputes facing businesses.

It is also important to think about all the workers who are affected. We talked about statistics and cited specific cases. However, we should not forget the dignity of the people who are used to going to work every day and who are being denied the pride of contributing to the development of our society. This is why this bill must be supported, as is already the case.

We are aware that there are dedicated people. We must think about and strongly support all those who participate in the development of our society.