House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ports.

Topics

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

moved that Bill C-415, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have this opportunity to present Bill C-415, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers) to this House.

The purpose of this bill is to prohibit federally regulated workplaces from hiring replacement workers during legal strikes or lockouts. The bill would also ensure that essential services are protected during any labour disruptions. Bill C-415 is a fair and equitable balance between the rights of working people in this country and the need to protect essential services upon which Canadians rely from coast to coast to coast.

My colleagues in the House may recall that Bill C-257 was recently before this House and while it proposed a ban on replacement workers, it failed to address the needs to protect essential services. As a result, many concerns were raised by a variety of individuals and groups that during a strike or lockout essential services would not be provided for Canadians.

In fact, I introduced amendments to Bill C-257 which I hoped to see adopted. These amendments would have protected essential services of which I speak while still banning replacement workers. Unfortunately, these amendments were ruled out of order.

As legislators, it is important that we take into account the concerns of all individuals and groups as we consider legislation and changes to current laws. In particular, there was a considerable number of individuals and groups who expressed their belief that it was important to ensure that essential services be protected in the event of a strike or lockout.

I recall there was reference to remote communities, for example, who rely for their survival on federally regulated services like railroads and air travel. In regard to these issues, I can certainly understand their concerns about ensuring that a ban on replacement workers also protected the essential services upon which they rely.

It is for this reason that this new bill addresses these issues and more importantly, it achieves a balance that every reasonable party can certainly accept. One might ask why the need exists to ban replacement workers. The answer is simple. The use of replacement workers for long strikes and lockouts in many cases raises the level of animosity to the point of altercations and sometimes violent altercations.

Working people have struggled over many years for reasonable working conditions, fairness and the right to bargain collectively. The right to withdraw their labour during a legal strike or lockout is fundamental to the balanced relationship between employers and employees.

Replacement workers reduce the bargaining power of unions or workers involved in a legal labour dispute to an extent that undermines fairness in the collective bargaining process. Such practices tend to leave a bitter taste and a sense of injustice in the minds of employees long after a strike or lockout has ended. It is an unfair bargaining tool placed upon the hands of employers. Clearly the employers who elect to utilize replacement workers may do so in order to reduce pressure upon themselves while at the same time increasing pressure for settlement on the part of their striking employees and their labour representatives.

I would also point out that experience has taught us that the vast majority of federally regulated employers do not elect to use replacement workers during the course of a labour dispute.

This is, in part, due to the nature of the work performed by many federally regulated employees. The time that is required to train and certify a replacement worker simply makes such a course of action impractical.

The reality is that the bill is designed to address, for the most part, circumstances where employers have less than honourable records when it comes to dealing with their employees in a fair and equitable manner during the course of a labour dispute.

Some have argued that under the current Labour Code there are provisions to prevent employers from undermining the collective bargaining process. In fact, the ability to prosecute an employer for violations of this kind is so limited that, to my knowledge, there have been but one or two successful prosecutions.

The process by which prosecution takes place with respect to this rather broad legal provision is so cumbersome and practically unenforceable that in practical terms it is, for the most part, ineffectual and may indeed contribute to even more entrenched bad feelings following a labour dispute.

In banning replacement workers, my bill would ensure there is respect for workers, respect that they both deserve and have worked so hard to attain.

Bill C-415 would also address the restrictions that would be placed upon management with respect to the kind of work that would be undertaken during a labour disruption.

In its original form, Bill C-257 placed what I believed were unreasonable restrictions on management activities during a strike or lockout. Bill C-415 would allow managers to perform tasks without such unreasonable restrictions. Once again, there would be a balance between the rights of workers and the rights of employers.

While I am opposed to the use of replacement workers during a strike or a lockout, I believe that our first responsibility is for the protection of Canadians during any labour disruption. Bill C-415 would ensure that essential services are clearly and unequivocally protected during a strike or a lockout.

Once again, balance would be achieved; a balance between essential services Canadians need and deserve, and the rights of working people across the country. It is for this crucial reason that the bill would ensure that essential services are protected.

In some instances, a strike or a lockout could pose an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.

While there are provisions in the Canada Labour Code that provide for the protection of essential services, Bill C-415 would clearly and without doubt protect essential services at the same time that it would ban replacement workers.

The current provisions could be difficult and cumbersome in that much of what is determined to be an essential service or who is designated as an essential worker would be determined far in advance of an actual labour dispute and could create difficulties, in practical terms, through a systematic inflexibility in the current law.

Bill C-415 is about balance and fairness. My colleagues and keen observers will know that this bill has been a long time coming.

There have been comparisons between Bill C-415 and Bill C-257. The fact is that Bill C-257, while well-intentioned, encouraged many to argue that it failed to meet the basic test of fairness, balance and the need to protect public interest.

Having engaged in extensive consultations with unions, business workers and policy makers, it is clear that legislatures banning replacement workers must include the protection of essential services.

Some of my colleagues in other parties believe this exemption was unnecessary, but it would have been irresponsible to assume that this could be dealt with by the Canada Industrial Relations Board when legal options made it clear that this was not necessarily the case.

The importance of this point is increased when we ban the use of replacement workers. The principal objective of Bill C-257, the banning of replacement workers, is realized in my Bill C-415. Under the bill replacement workers would not be permitted during strikes and lockouts at federally regulated workplaces. Therefore, in bringing forward Bill C-415, I have worked to achieve balance and fairness.

The bill would ban replacement workers in the event of a strike or lockout. The bill would protect the essential services Canadians need. The bill would ensure that managers can continue to work during a strike or lockout. Bill C-415 brings balance and fairness, and that is beneficial to Canadians, working people, the collective bargaining process and employers.

I encourage all members to recognize the need to protect the most fundamental rights of federally regulated workers to withdraw their labour during a strike or lockout without having to worry about their jobs going to replacement workers. Furthermore, I encourage all members to recognize the need to protect essential services.

I ask all members to support Bill C-415 and in so doing, to support labour fairness and balance in federally regulated workplaces.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have just one question. I will not preface it at length because I want the member for Davenport to have enough time to respond.

Do members of his party support this bill? Will they vote in favour of it?

Will the new labour critic vote for this bill even though she has never voted in favour of it on previous occasions?

Finally, will his leader vote for this bill?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. As she knows, I am not my party's labour critic at present, which is unfortunate, because it was a position I enjoyed. But that was my leader's decision, and he decided that I should be the critic for the Treasury Board. I do not want to speak on behalf of our critic, but I really hope that our party will support this bill.

This is a private member's bill. I cannot speak for the other parties, but in our party, when a private member's bill is introduced, we let all members vote as they wish, for or against the bill.

That is what our party always does when private members' bills are introduced.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Davenport.

I noticed in the debate on Bill C-257, the previous attempt to get the issue of replacement workers through the House, including the Canada Labour Code, that many Liberal members hid behind the issue of essential services when in fact the Canada Labour Code now deals with that in section 87.4. It lays out a provision that unions and employers must designate essential services prior to the commencement of a strike or lockout and in fact also gives the minister power to ask the Canada Industrial Relations Board to designate those services in that situation.

Therefore, there is no flaw in the current Canada Labour Code when it comes to essential services and yet that is the problem that Liberals hid behind when some of them voted against this legislation the last time.

I know the member spent considerable time in his speech this morning talking about that exact same issue, pretending that somehow his bill addresses something that did not need to be addressed in the first place, which somehow makes it more acceptable. I am wondering if he can explain why the Liberals continue to hide behind this issue of essential services when it really detracts from the need for legislation to prevent the use of replacement workers in strikes and lockouts in federal jurisdictions.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have always been very clear, both in the House and in committee, that first, fundamentally, I believe there is a need to ban replacement workers. I do not think replacement workers add anything at all that is beneficial to the debate on workers' rights. Also, in terms of fairness, justice and what needs to be done, people have a right to go on strike.

Also, however, essential services need to continue. There are mechanisms through the Canada Industrial Relations Board such that these issues can be resolved as people are gathered to the table. Yes, the minister can also play an important role, but at the same time many witnesses who came before the committee had problems with essential services and the fact that the word “essential” was not there. As a committee, we tried to do our best to add the word “essential” to services. I believe that is what my bill does.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the member who just introduced his bill.

I would like to share something with him. Quebec has an essential services council. Whenever the council meets, it takes two or three days to make a decision.

Can my colleague explain how he would protect people living in the north who will not be getting things they need, such as air transport and so on, because it takes two or three days to decide what constitutes an essential service?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Davenport should know that the time for questions and comments has ended, but I will give him a moment to reply.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would also like to thank my colleague for his question.

I have already explained that the system inherent in the bill I have introduced today is very clear: essential services are protected in this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, during the last session of Parliament, the opposition members repeatedly tried to convince this House to adopt a bill that would make changes to the Canada Labour Code, with a view to prohibiting federal employers from using replacement workers during a work stoppage.

Our government has opposed such measures in the past, and we are opposed now to Bill C-415, which is before this House. This bill may include a new provision, but the wording remains essentially the same as in previous versions introduced in the House. Most importantly, the threat this bill poses to the health of the economy and labour relations in Canada is more real than ever.

The members of this House who support this bill say that it represents a real improvement over the previous version, Bill C-257. However, the facts do not support this assertion. The bill's supporters claim that adding the concept of essential services to Bill C-415 helps make up for the serious deficiencies in the previous bill. They also state that this bill would appropriately meet the need to maintain services essential to public health and safety in the event of a labour dispute, but none of these arguments holds water. In fact, this bill is no different from its predecessor in its goal or its consequences.

Adding the word “essential” to an existing section of the act, which already requires that the employer and the union maintain services deemed necessary to prevent an immediate danger to public health and safety, does not change the essence of this provision. Bill C-415 does not define “essential services”, which could lead to confusion and uncertainty. One has to wonder why the drafters of this bill did not provide a clear definition of the concept, instead of leaving it to Parliament. As legislators, we could have been accountable to Canadians.

Advocates of Bill C-415 do not know how this bill will affect the health of Canada's economy either. In the meantime, our government has very clearly stated why it is opposed to this type of bill.

As we have already said in this House, attempts to amend the Canada Labour Code to prohibit the use of replacement workers could have serious consequences for Canadian companies, industries and workers.

The provisions of Bill C-415 state that only managers of a company affected by a labour strike are authorized to replace employees who are on strike or who have been locked out. A few months ago, Canadians saw for themselves the consequences of a work stoppage affecting a federal government service.

In February 2007, when CN workers went on strike, Canadians clearly saw the devastating effects of a work stoppage on a fundamental service in a federally regulated sector. Merchandise was no longer being transported across the country, as it should have been. In just a few days, this is what happened.

Sawmills on the Pacific coast were faced with the possibility of laying off employees or closing their doors. Assembly plants in Ontario ended up with surplus stock. The same thing happened at the port of Vancouver. Producers from the Prairies had to find new ways to send their products to market. Remote communities had to wait for vital supplies to be delivered. The Canadian Wheat Board was paying $300,000 a day to keep ships in port until the grain arrived.

This brings me to my next argument on the shortcomings of Bill C-415. It does not protect services in the sectors regulated by the federal government that are essential to Canada's economy.

I am talking about sectors affecting a wide range of products that are fundamental to businesses, industries and the growth of this country, namely, transportation by rail, air and land, the ports, certain telecommunication and broadcast services, financial services and commuter services in certain regions.

These services are fundamental to our economy, but they have not been considered essential in the general meaning of the word. This bill does nothing to ensure that railway services or telecommunication services are maintained during a work stoppage. Canadians have learned from recent experience with the CN strike the extent to which a labour dispute in a federal sector can quickly harm other sectors of the economy. With a direct ban on hiring replacement workers, a work stoppage in one sector of Canada's transportation network could have serious consequences. What would be the cost? Who would assume responsibility for damages in the event of a work stoppage? Bill C-415 does not provide any answers to these questions.

It is also important to note that the Canada Labour Code is already very specific on the matter of responsibility of federal employers and unions in the event of a strike. It requires the parties to maintain the services necessary to prevent immediate and serious risk to public health or safety. This applies to all employers under federal jurisdiction.

Bill C-415 raises some other concerns for our government. Rather than helping workers, this legislation would be detrimental to healthy federal labour relations in Canada. The current provisions of the Canada Labour Code are working effectively. In 2006, the majority of conflicts governed by the Canada Labour Code—some 97%— were resolved without work stoppages. Consider also the findings of the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Since 1999, of the 18 complaints filed concerning the allegedly inappropriate use of replacement workers, 13 were withdrawn, three cases were heard and dismissed by the board and the other two are still waiting for a ruling.

One thing is clear: the updated Canada Labour Code strikes a crucial balance, which is something that deserves to be protected. Each party has the same interest in maintaining good labour relations, as well as the same power of influence. Just as unions have the power to advise their members to exercise their right to strike, employers have the right to try to maintain their operations, even if in a limited way, during a work stoppage.

To sum up, it seems clear to me that this bill is no different from its predecessor. It could have a serious impact on our economy, our workers and labour relations in this country. Many members of this House have acknowledged this fact, which is why they are joining us in saying no to this kind of legislative measure. All members must appreciate the real consequences of this bill and determine whether Canadians want to see this kind of legislation from their government.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that all members of the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill. Obviously my leader, the members and I, as the labour critic, will vote for this bill; we agree completely with the principle of the bill, but not at all with the approach and I will get to that in a minute.

We agree with the substance of the bill because we are progressive and because we are very familiar with the anti-strikebreaker bill. Quebec has had such legislation for 30 years. We know how it works, we know it works well and we know it truly protects workers. Therefore, we will vote for this bill if we have the opportunity.

However, I want to talk about the approach. I am terribly disappointed. I do not know how to express it. I do not know which adjective to use to describe my thoughts and feelings. I am terribly disappointed by what the Liberal Party has done, by its manoeuvres and the traps that it set for us with respect to this bill. Last April, as you know, when we voted at third reading on the bill, the Liberals voted against it. As for the Conservatives, we know they are against workers.

The Liberals had led us to believe that they would vote for the bill at third reading. But they voted against it. The next morning, what did they do? They introduced a new bill. Why did they vote against the bill? It was almost identical. What did it contain. They only added one paragraph to the new bill—a carbon copy of section 87.1 of the Canada Labour Code, plus the adjective “essential” in front of “services”. That does not add much to the bill.

If they were really being sincere, if they really wanted to help workers, and if they really cared about workers' well-being, what would they have done? They would have voted for the Bloc Québécois bill. The following day, instead of introducing a new bill, the member for Davenport could have introduced an amendment to our bill. That would have been a new bill that was actually an amendment. That would have proven that they really care about what is in the best interest of Quebec workers, and Canadian ones too, of course.

It seems that the Liberals do not want any anti-scab legislation. They just want to appear to want it so they can garner the support of workers and get some help from them during election campaigns. I will not tell you what I really think of that because I would have to use unparliamentary language. Anyway, they should be ashamed of having voted against our Bill C-257. It was exactly the same bill. As I said earlier, the only thing they added was the word “essential”.

The Canada Labour Code currently does a very good job of covering essential services, but these services are covered differently in Quebec. Quebec has an essential services council. Contrary to what the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles said—and he is way out in left field on this issue, he has no idea what he is talking about—the essential services council was created to manage essential services in the public service. That is one thing.

The anti-scab bill covers all workers regulated by the Canada Labour Code. The Canadian public service is not regulated by the Canada Labour Code, but by the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles should go review the basics so that he can put forward better arguments.

Speaking of weak arguments, I would like to get back to the hare-brained ideas of the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, ridiculous notions that the Conservatives are passing off as arguments. The minister led a fear campaign against Bill C-257. I mention this because he is likely to do the same thing. He does not learn from his mistakes. Everyone knows that the minister previously voted in favour of an anti-scab bill introduced by the Bloc Québécois. That was in 1990, when he was simply a member. Of course, now that he is a minister, he is ignoring the interests of Quebeckers and voting with Canada's financial establishment.

Among his hare-brained ideas, he says the economy will be completely paralyzed, that banking services will be paralyzed. Yet banks are not even unionized. How could this bill, which applies to union members, paralyze something that is not unionized? That makes no sense.

He also said that, given the current situation, the lack of anti-scab legislation precluded special back to work legislation. Well, one week later, he presented Bill C-46. And what did he want from us? He was asking us to pass special back to work legislation for CN union members. He is therefore contradicting himself from one week to the next. As I said earlier, these are hare-brained ideas that the Conservative Party is trying to pass off as arguments in support of an anti-scab bill.

I would like to briefly get back to the advantages of this bill. As we know, it promotes a fair balance during negotiations between employers and workers. And that balance is important. Indeed, negotiations normally take place between two parties: the employer and the union. However, when there are replacement workers, the balance shifts to two against one: the replacement workers and the employer against the unionized workers. And, given that such an unfair situation can only deteriorate, the employer sometimes calls on the police to enforce the law on their property. The situation then becomes three against one: the employer, the replacement workers and the police against the unionized workers. That is unfair and creates an imbalance.

Because I still have a few minutes left, I would like to go over certain points once more.

This is at least the second time the member for Davenport has asked to postpone the first hour of this debate. We in the Bloc Québécois, however, worked a miracle and succeeded in introducing this bill in less than 10 months. I believe it was on May 2. And 10 months later, it reached third reading, after successfully passing second reading for the first time. This was really a historic achievement. After the bill was passed at second reading, we met in committee.

I must remind this House what happened in committee. The Liberals postponed the study of this bill in committee by a month. We lost a month, even though the Bloc Québécois was doing everything it could. All my colleagues cooperated. They even traded places in the schedule with us so that the anti-scab bill could be adopted as soon as possible, as the top priority. There was a minority government, and we did not know when an election would be called.

My colleagues were generous enough to give up their turns in order to discuss this bill as soon as possible. We arrived in committee and the Liberals wasted our time and made us delay consideration of the bill as long as possible. This lends credence to the theory that the Liberal Party is not really interested in this bill. They just want to seem interested in it and to make sure that no one else in this House introduces another anti-scab bill. The day the Liberals ever withdraw their bill, the Bloc Québécois will definitely be the first to introduce its own, which is ready to go. Unfortunately, this House cannot study two bills on the same subject at once. We will introduce our bill again the first chance we get.

We will introduce this bill again because workers in Quebec need it. In Quebec, there are currently two categories of workers: those who work under the jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec and are covered by anti-scab legislation, and some 10% of workers who are governed by the Canada Labour Code, which does not include that benefit. That is not normal, within a single nation.

Lastly, I want to say that I cannot really count on the Liberals to accelerate the progress of this bill, but I can reach out to them. I can tell them that I will vote in favour of this bill, as will my party. Nonetheless, I do not have much faith that they will speed things up and allow us to have a vote on this bill before the next election campaign.

What I hope for the most is that there will be just one Labour Code in Quebec. To achieve that, Quebec should have just one government that collects all our taxes, that takes care of all our international relations and that drafts all our legislation. That is when Quebec, our nation, will lead our own country.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on Bill C-415, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).

This is legislation that New Democrats believe is long overdue. We have debated it many times, have had many votes on it and it is time we actually passed the legislation.

New Democrats will be supporting the legislation again in the House, as we did when we supported the last attempt to deal with the issue of replacement workers in strikes and lockouts in federal jurisdictions, which was Bill C-257 in the first session of this Parliament, a bill tabled by the member for Gatineau.

Our resolve to see this issue dealt with successfully is very strong. We want the legislation to go through because prohibiting replacement workers during a legal strike or lockout is an essential piece of guaranteeing labour peace and economic stability in Canada. This would be an important piece of legislation.

The fight for workers' rights has been a long one in Canada and the key victories in that have been the freedom of association, free collective bargaining and the ability to withhold services if collective bargaining fails. Those are very essential to our labour movement and to workers in Canada. It is also important to workers in federal jurisdictions.

This legislation, which deals with replacement workers or strikebreakers in a legal strike or lockout, would level the playing and ensure some fairness between employers and workers in that difficult situation when there is a strike or a lockout.

We have had other attempts at this. I mentioned the one by the member for Gatineau. The member for Vancouver Island North, the New Democrat member, also has legislation tabled regarding the issue of replacement workers. If the bill should fail again, we will be on it to ensure that we have another opportunity to debate this important issue and, hopefully, finally get this legislation through Parliament.

The ability to negotiate fair wages, a safe workplace, pay equity, health care and pensions is crucial to many families in Canada. Those who are lucky enough to be represented by a union and have a collective agreement know the importance of that collective agreement to all of those issues and to their lives here in Canada. Therefore, we want to ensure there is a level playing field when it comes to collective bargaining and strikes and lockouts in Canada.

If I were a Liberal, I would be embarrassed to table this kind of legislation. I think the member for Davenport should be embarrassed to table this legislation because if it were not for the Liberals changing their votes the last time this came before the House, the vote on Bill C-257, we may well have been farther down the road and have enacted this kind of legislation.

Unfortunately, when Bill C-257 came to a vote in the first session of this Parliament, 29 Liberals, who had supported it at second reading, switched their vote from yea to nay. That meant that almost 80 Liberals and 20 Conservatives voted in favour of this at second reading but many of them changed their vote so that close to 30 Liberals, including the Leader of the Opposition, followed the government's lead to kill the bill.

That is tragic because we were so close to seeing this important change made in our labour law in Canada. Unfortunately, the Liberals played a major role in seeing that attempt go down the drain.

The Liberals should be embarrassed for tabling this legislation and embarrassed for tabling it the day after the previous legislation went down to defeat. There is just no excuse for that. We will be watching very carefully to see what happens with the Liberals when the bill comes to a vote.

Prohibiting replacement workers in a strike or lockout is very important because two provincial jurisdictions in Canada have long-standing experience with exactly this kind of legislation.

Quebec passed legislation to this effect in 1977. British Columbia passed legislation banning the use of replacement workers in 1993.

It was a New Democratic government that introduced that legislation in 1993 in British Columbia. The interesting thing is that there has been a change of government in British Columbia. Now the B.C. Liberal Party is in power, a coalition of conservative parties in British Columbia. They have made many changes to labour law in British Columbia that have been very controversial and I think detrimental to working people in British Columbia.

One piece of legislation that they did not change is the legislation regarding replacement workers. Even the conservative-liberal B.C. government knows that legislation has improved the labour climate in British Columbia. It has improved the ability of labour and management to come to successful agreements. That has been a good thing for the economy of British Columbia.

I do not think there is any excuse for saying that this kind of legislation will ultimately hurt the economy. We have two excellent examples, British Columbia and Quebec, where it has had exactly the opposite effect and where it is supported soundly by employers and workers because they know it has a positive effect when it comes to settling an agreement.

Replacement workers increase tension in labour disputes. They prolong strikes. They add to instability in the search for a settlement in a strike or a lockout. None of those things do anything to benefit the economy. None of those things do anything to benefit the families of management and workers who are affected by a strike or lockout.

Taking this step to ban replacement workers, to ban strike breaking is a very significant one to ensure that there will be a successful settlement.

This morning as we were listening to other members in this debate, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore pointed out that the use of replacement workers is also a very dangerous practice from the perspective of the health and safety of those workers who are sent in to do jobs that they know very little about. They are often sent in to operate dangerous machinery or to work in difficult situations without the appropriate training for that kind of work.

If for no other reason than the concern about the people who are sent in as replacement workers and for their safety, I would hope that other members of the House might support this legislation. It is a minor issue, but I think it is an important issue to note.

Many Liberals used the excuse that they were voting against Bill C-257 in the first session of this Parliament because it did not deal with the question of essential services. That is in fact not the case. Essential services are dealt with in the Canada Labour Code. Section 87.4 states that unions and employers prior to a dispute should work on the issue of designation of essential services. That is already a provision of the Canada Labour Code and not something that was missing from the legislation.

It is also possible under the existing Canada Labour Code for the Minister of Labour to ask that essential services be designated at the time of a strike or lockout.

The Liberals were hiding behind a false issue at the time because the current Canada Labour Code speaks very clearly about the designation of essential services. There was no doubt that it was already dealt with. To say this new bill was necessary because of that I think is completely erroneous.

Shortly after I was elected in 2004 there was a lockout of Telus telecommunications workers in British Columbia and Alberta. It was a very serious lockout. Replacement workers, outsourcing, contracting out and strikebreakers were all used in that strike. It increased the tension and the length of that strike dramatically. It had a serious effect on the workers involved, on the managers involved and on the morale of that workplace. It also was a significant hardship for the community. I spoke to a number of small businesses that were directly affected because of that lengthy lockout and the tension surrounding it.

In this corner of the House, New Democrats will be strongly supporting legislation that bans the use of replacement workers in strikes or lockouts in the federal jurisdiction.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue that Bill C-415 addresses is a very complex and difficult one. As we have heard across the House today, it is fraught with different viewpoints and challenges.

I think all of us here would say that we are very supportive of the collective bargaining process. We want to make sure workers' rights are protected. We want to make sure that people have freedom of association. We clearly want to make sure that workers are not abused in the manner as happened in British Columbia in some cases, and about which my colleague spoke. On the other hand we have a responsibility as legislators to make sure that things are not done that would harm society in general, and I include the workers who would be affected by the bill.

At the heart of this issue is a balance one wants to strike. On the one hand there are the rights of the workers to ensure that their concerns are dealt with effectively, that an employer cannot use the situation to be abusive against the workers. On the other hand we have to ensure that essential services are protected in our society. If they are not, if those services fall apart, it could damage everybody. Those services form the spine of our country.

This bill affects federally regulated services, such as transportation, banking, air transportation and telecommunications. Imagine if any of those services were affected. For example, if baggage handlers were to go on strike, it would grind the whole air transportation system across the country to a halt. It happened in trucking. Imagine if it happened in telecommunications. Imagine what would happen with respect to hospital services and access to emergency services. Those would all fall apart.

It is interesting that there are two definitions. Emergency services have been defined as the operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety and health of the public. That is how essential services were termed in the previous bill to this one, Bill C-257. It is a definition that the NDP likes very well.

I would submit that definition is far too narrow and would not deal with true essential services. They ought to be defined in the following way, and I will take a leaf out of the Quebec labour code, section 111.17. The Quebec labour code very clearly states that essential services are “a service to which the public is entitled”.

The distinction may seem subtle, but it is very important. Imagine that someone was working in a union dealing with a very difficult labour negotiation with an employer involved in banking, telecommunications, trucking or air transportation. If the service ground to a halt, what would happen to those federally regulated employees who could not receive their cheques? What would happen if there was a family emergency and they could not travel? What would happen if the company could not move the goods and services that are required for our country to continue to be effective economically?

All workers would be affected negatively, including the ones who this pieces of legislation is supposed to address. That is the conundrum we have in the House. How do we ensure that we protect workers while ensuring that those same workers are protected in terms of their health, welfare, safety and economy? If people cannot bank, travel or use telecommunications, it means that everybody in our country is hurt, including the people who are directly affected by the so-called labour strike.

It is important for the workers who are listening to this debate to understand the distinction. Nobody in the House is against them. All of us want to ensure that we are able to serve them and to make sure that workers' concerns and rights are addressed effectively and in a timely fashion and that no employer can use the power of a legal structure against the workers.

I remember in my province when the hospital employee unions were on strike. I was on the picket line. I was working with the people on the picket line and their union representatives to liaise with our provincial government, to come up with solutions that would work well for the workers who were on strike, workers who were working in the hospitals treating patients so that the situation would be resolved quickly and effectively.

Maybe one of the solutions is binding final offer arbitration. That could be incorporated.

Another group that needs to be spoken for is the RCMP. The RCMP, understandably, cannot form a union, but its members also do not have the power as a group to articulate concerns for their collective. RCMP members work day in and day out in the service of our country, as all police forces do across the country. They give their lives sometimes for us and they do it with courage and distinction across our nation. They have concerns also, but the men and women in the RCMP who serve us cannot articulate those concerns in a way that is productive.

In looking at this bill, maybe we could look at all workers, including RCMP officers and federally regulated employers, who form part of the spine of our nation. We should come up with solutions that will enable all workers to have their concerns addressed in a timely and effective fashion.

With respect to the Telus workers, clearly what some of them were subjected to was dead wrong and should never be allowed in our country. I am talking of the use of workers from the United States and the types of abuses that took place against workers on the picket lines. That should not ever happen.

The concerns of the workers need to be addressed in a timely fashion and in a way that does not affect the industry itself, because if it affects the industry, it affects the spine of our nation and if it affects the spine of our nation, it can be catastrophic to every single person in our country, including people who are working for an affected employer and are supposedly going on strike.

The NDP should stop hiding behind its rhetoric and start talking about workers instead of unions. That is, in effect, what it is doing. That party's rhetoric belies its true colours. Oftentimes it talks about supporting union leadership instead of about supporting workers. Maybe the NDP should talk about workers having the right to a ballot vote as opposed to raising their hands and the ability to have right to work legislation.

I looked at this issue a few years ago and it is interesting. Right to work legislation is fascinating. When workers have right to work legislation in their jurisdictions, they are able to earn, on average, $3,500 more per person. They are also able to control their unions a bit better in their best interests. It also enables union leadership to work better for the people it represents.

The government should look into these types of solutions. The NDP should consider championing solutions that work for the betterment of the worker, not necessarily for the political structures that those workers labour under. The NDP ought to listen to some of the concerns of workers' who are in unions about the structures that some of them labour under. Some union leaderships are wonderful and work very effectively for the people they represent, but there are some that do not. There are clearly structures in our country that work well for employees and other structures that do not. I strongly encourage all members of the House to look into that.

On the issue of labour, the government needs to come up with a plan. In short, there is a critical labour shortage as the population ages. Right now, 16% of Canadians are over the age of 65. That will double in the next 25 years. There are critical shortages in medicine, the skills trades and other areas. The government should increase the percentage of people coming in to the skilled trades workforce. It should expand the workforce through enabling those who are older to stay in the workforce. It should work with the provinces in terms of skilled retraining, access to training, and such.

I encourage all members of the House to work together for solutions that will work well for employees from coast to coast.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni has 10 minutes, of which he will have three today.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, today the House is debating the contents of Bill C-415, legislation that would bar the ability of employers governed by federal regulation to use replacement workers during a labour stoppage.

Earlier this year we debated a similar legislative effort, Bill C-257, which sought to achieve the same goal. I cannot help but think of Yogi Berra's famous line, “It's déjà vu all over again”.

With Bill C-257, I think there have been 11 previous attempts, and this would be the 12th attempt, to try to move the yardstick in this labour negotiation effort. The previous 11 attempts have all been defeated in Parliament.

There are some serious shortcomings to Bill C-415. It is really no different from its predecessor, both in substance and in the threat it poses to the good health of Canada's economy and to labour relations. Both the current and previous bills call for an amendment to the Canada Labour Code. They contain identical summary paragraphs. Despite assurances by supporters of the bill, I see nothing in what has been proposed that could be considered an improvement on what we debated earlier this year, a bill which we opposed vigorously and which was defeated in Parliament.

Drafters of this bill have added a provision that would have us believe the issue of essential services has been resolved. However, it is a very complicated issue when we deal with essential services. We are talking about services in the transportation sector, particularly, interprovincial transportation, communications, banking and emergency services that are federally regulated.

However, would Bill C-415 define what is meant by “essential workers”? My answer is it would not.

Bill C-415 would not create a new category of essential services. Nor would it designate a group of workers to perform the essential work. There would be no material change at all to the existing requirements in the Canada Labour Code to maintain services or activities that are necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or the health of the public. In other words, the bill would not make any new services essential.

Under the current provision on essential services, questions have to be answered by the Canada Industrial Relations Board when the parties cannot agree on what services have to be maintained. The board is then required to make a determination on what is essential to ensure the health and safety of the public.

I will wrap up with this statement. It took the board seven years to make that determination with respect to a case involving NAV CANADA and its unions.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni. There will be seven minutes left when Bill C-415 returns.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.