House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, rather than get into the merits of the debate, I would like the hon. member to address one point. She did mention that taxpayers should be allowed to speak for themselves. This is a provincial issue. We are talking in this case about the governments of Ontario and British Columbia. They are democratically elected governments. They did have elections. They did debate, discuss and vote on this issue. Each province came forward with the decision to implement the HST.

I find it difficult that the federal government should say no, when it already said yes to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Quebec to a certain extent--

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I regret I will have to interrupt the hon. member because the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain will have less than a minute to answer.

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, how can we force our will on Ontario and British Columbia when we did not--

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain has less than a minute to answer.

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I can be very, very brief.

I appreciate that it is difficult for the Liberals to now accept responsibility for imposing higher taxes and that the member would try to weasel out of that. The reality is that it is beyond belief for people who are watching this debate to suggest that this is a provincial issue and not a federal issue when we are debating this issue in this House.

I hope that is brief enough, Madam Speaker, although I would be pleased to go on. This is not a provincial issue. The federal government is a key partner in this. That is why we are debating it. We need to give people an opportunity to appear before the committee. Let us have public hearings. Let us make sure people's voices are heard.

Disposition of an Act to amend the Excise Tax Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. It being 5:43 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I am also pleased to be seconded by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who worked very hard in the previous Parliament to have a similar bill passed. I would like to quickly read the summary of Bill C-386.

The purpose of this enactment is to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out. It extends the obligation to maintain essential services.

The enactment also provides for the imposition of a fine for an offence.

The bill would ensure that all workers who are fortunate enough to work in Quebec are subject to the same legislation, since replacement workers are prohibited in Quebec. I would like to provide a quick background on anti-scab legislation.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of all those who contribute to Quebec society on a daily basis is to show true respect for their rights, by preventing the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout. Therefore, it is imperative that workers governed by federal labour legislation have the same rights as those governed by Quebec legislation, including a true right to strike.

The Canada Labour Code should be amended and brought into line with the Quebec labour code, so as to ban the use of replacement workers, or scabs, once and for all. Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power, and would keep tension on the picket lines to a minimum. That is the objective of Bill C-386, which would prohibit the hiring of replacement workers.

Unlike in Quebec, which has prohibited replacement workers since 1977, there is currently nothing in the Canada Labour Code that clearly and specifically prohibits the use of replacement workers.

Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but only where an employer uses replacement workers for the purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity. That prohibition is very weak, because to be entitled to use replacement workers, an employer need only continue to recognize the union in place and continue bargaining to demonstrate its good faith. As we see, it is very easy for employers to have access to replacement workers.

A firm prohibition, which is what Bill C-386 proposes, is essential, however, for civilized bargaining to take place during a labour dispute and to promote industrial peace, and is also the cornerstone for establishing an equitable balance of power between employers and employees.

Workers in industries that are governed by the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications—workers in Internet businesses, cable companies and cell phone companies—and banks, ports, bridges, airports or Canada Post, who make up about 8% of the Quebec labour force, are therefore at a disadvantage when they have to bargain with their employer, and as a result they get dragged into longer strikes.

According to figures from the Quebec Ministère du Travail, for instance, Quebec workers whose employer is federally regulated are practically always overrepresented in the number of days of work lost. While they account for just under 8% of Quebec’s labour force, they experienced 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and 22.6% of the person-days lost in 2003. In fact, a peak was reached in 2002. While 7.3% of Quebec workers were employed in federally regulated organizations, they accounted for 48% of days of work lost because of labour disputes.

In a nutshell, there were, on average, two and a half times more person-days lost in the last decade in labour disputes in Quebec involving workers governed by the Canada Labour Code than those workers represent in demographic weight. Obviously, this translates into longer and more violent disputes when the employer is able to hire strikebreakers.

Remember the three-month dispute at Sécur, the Vidéotron dispute that lasted over 10 months and involved acts of sabotage, and the dispute at the Cargill grain elevator in Baie-Comeau that ended in 2003 after a three-year lockout. And let us not forget the unionized workers at Radio-Nord Communications, employees of the three Abitibi television stations, TVA, TQS and Radio-Canada, and the two radio stations in northwestern Quebec, who were on strike for over 20 months.

The Conservative government stated its opposition at the outset, and having no genuine arguments, retreated behind apocalyptic scenarios that have nothing to do with reality. Quebec has had legislation prohibiting replacement workers for 30 years, and there have been no catastrophes.

In spite of Conservative opposition, the Bloc Québécois was able to have Bill C-257 passed on second reading, and got it as far as the report stage. That was the first time an anti-strikebreaker bill had made it that far. The Liberals, who had supported the bill in principle on second reading, ultimately did an about-face and said the bill would not have guaranteed that essential services would be maintained.

The Canada Labour Code already includes provisions that require both the employer and unionized employees to continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. The Conservative government, and now the Liberal Party, have done their best to ignore these provisions.

In the March 21, 2007, vote on Bill C-257, during the last Parliament, the Conservatives and the Liberals, with the exception of some Liberal members from Quebec, joined forces to defeat the bill by a vote of 177 to 122. It is important to remember that this Minister of Labour, the same one who fiercely condemned the Bloc Québécois bill and made all kinds of irrational arguments, supported a bill to prohibit replacement workers in 1990. The Liberals tried to avoid completely losing face by introducing a bill similar to the one drafted by the Bloc Québécois. There was not enough time to vote on that bill before the election was called.

I want everyone to understand that we are making a direct connection between the Conservatives' opposition to anti-scab legislation and special bills because the right to negotiate is a basic right. However, Quebeckers also believe that the right to balanced bargaining power is a basic right.

I am pleased to be discussing Bill C-386 here in the House. The Speaker recently received a letter dated December 1 from the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications. This association, Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, wrote to the Speaker. It is worth hearing what they had to say. The association wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons to recommend that he vote against Bill C-386. This is a group of employers under federal jurisdiction. Apparently, it is an organization that strongly opposes the rights currently in force in Quebec. I will list some of the members: Air Canada, WestJet, VIA Rail, Canada Post, Fedex, Iron Ore, NAV CANADA, Purolator, Telus, Canadian Pacific, the Airports Association and Bell Canada.

The association does not include banks, which have employees under federal jurisdiction, but they have their own association. It is very interesting to read what the association wrote to the Speaker of the House to convince him to vote against the bill. I will read it in English.

They believe it is bad public policy because it would shift the balance of power in collective bargaining overwhelmingly in favour of the unions.

That is like saying that it is the employers who hold the power right now, and if this bill were ever introduced, it would shift the power to unions. This is despite the fact that the bill has evolved. Essential services have been added. Despite the fact that this works very well in Quebec, there is always this direct opposition from employers. This is important.

They thought it would be good to form an association, the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, to address this. Their letter indicates that 14 anti-scab bills have been introduced since 2000, and they are quite proud that none of those bills has passed.

In the end, they always win. It is clear in their correspondence, and in 1977 Quebec passed anti-scab legislation to ensure some degree of balance.

So employers form an association and send letters to say that if this ever changes, the unions will have all the power. This means that right now, it is the employers that have all the power. But anti-scab legislation, legislation that would prohibit replacement workers and ensure that essential services would be maintained, is a form of balance. This has definitely been proven in Quebec. Once again, it is a difficult situation. When 92% of unionized employees in a nation like Quebec are covered by anti-scab legislation, and the other 8% fall under the Canada Labour Code and do not have the same ability to negotiate or enjoy the same labour relations, this creates a clear imbalance.

Earlier I gave some examples of labour disputes that have occurred, of delays in negotiations, and the use of scabs to allow the work to continue and allow the business to operate as it did before without having to use the employees. Of course, this only fuels the debates.

This often provokes nasty situations. Indeed, people are very unhappy when no progress is being made in negotiations. The employer continues to count on replacement workers to carry on its operations. At this time, in any civilized employer-employee relationship, anti-scab legislation with the maintenance of essential services is necessary. This is what we are proposing in the bill I am introducing here today in my name and on behalf of the Bloc.

We are not engaging in these debates and making these proposals without support. There is a real consensus in the union movement to support this anti-scab bill. This legislation is supported by the Canadian Labour Congress; the Fédération des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec; the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN); the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); the Public Service Alliance of Canada; the Brotherhoods of Locomotive Engineers of Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Alberta; the Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d'Hydro-Québec; the Ontario Teachers' Federation; the Congress of Union Retirees Canada; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; the Manitoba Federation of Labour; and the Graphic Communications International Union.

We have support to offset the Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications, this association of federally regulated employers that has formed and is sending letters to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is only natural that there should be a balance. As the letter I read earlier said, things are currently weighted in favour of the employers. It is only natural that unionized workers should want a better balance. That is why Bill C-386 is the answer. It prohibits replacement workers and maintains essential services.

I call on all the members of this House to support Bill C-386.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, this subject matter has been before the House on a number of occasions. The issue has been the definition of essential services. Essential services, in paragraph 87.4 of the Canada Labour Code, are defined as those which prevent or cause an immediate or serious danger to the safety or health of the public.

I wonder if the member could comment on a situation. For instance, say baggage handlers at Pearson airport were to go on strike and all of a sudden the other unions within Pearson withdrew their services in support of them. It would appear that in a matter of hours the entire airline industry in Canada would grind to a halt. This has nothing to do with health or safety, but it surely does have something to do with disrupting the country. I wonder if the member would comment. Is that the case under this bill?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, when we reread the amendments to paragraph 87.4(1) we see:

During a strike or lockout not prohibited by this Part, the employer, the trade union and the employees in the bargaining unit must continue the supply of essential services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.

It talks about the operation of facilities and the safety or health of the public. The full operation of the airport is in the public interest. It is certain that if we take the provision of essential services even further, given that there is a public interest and an impact on health and safety, airports are facilities that must remain in operation.

I think that essential service legislation could apply in this case.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I have letters here from some of the same people who were opposed to the air passenger bill of rights. The Canadian Airports Council says:

The Canada Labour Code has an emergency services provision designed to “prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety and health of the public”. It kicks in when there is a clear and present danger to the public. However, it does NOT cover many other essential services provided by federally regulated industries that the Canadian public view as critical to their well-being. For example, it could not be used to deal with a strike or lock-out of the following work groups who are essential to keeping an airport open and operational:

The letter spells out:

Workers who provide snow removal services at many airports during the winter

A contractor’s employees who providing de-icing services

Commissionaires, or other groups who provide important security-related duties

Non-safety/security labour groups, such as baggage handlers

It goes on to say that--

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

What he just read from the documents he obtained shows that this bill could work. These employers in the aviation industry know it as well.

That is why for years now the Bloc Québécois and I have been trying hard to make people realize that a fair balance can be achieved in labour relations. We cannot allow scabs to come in and not think that this benefits one side. That is the reality. That is Quebec's experience. We know that because labour disputes involving the 8% of employees under federal jurisdiction who are governed by this legislation last much longer than those involving employees governed by Quebec's anti-scab legislation.

When there is anti-scab legislation, essential services must be maintained. I think the bill introduced today is balanced. That is why I am asking my colleagues to avoid getting carried away, which both sides can do too easily. I am asking them to be logical and strive for balance in labour relations.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, there is no question that this is a private member's bill.

I would like to remind the member that the Canada Labour Code was amended and it was a compromise between the interests of unions and the interests of employers.

In fact, when the Sims Commission came to that balance, it retained the right to engage in legal strikes for the employees and the employers were able to use replacement workers temporarily during a strike. Striking employees were entitled to get their jobs back after the strike and the employers were prohibited from using replacement workers to undermine the union. It was a type of balance that needed to be preserved.

This bill proposes to make significant changes to the Canada Labour Code. If it were to pass, it would ban the right of federal employees to use replacement workers during a labour stoppage. It is looking just at that particular aspect of the Canada Labour Code without regard to all of the other aspects that were used in arriving at the balance.

Our government's position on Bill C-386 is very clear. It is bad for labour relations. It is bad for our economy. It is bad for Canada.

Consider the risk that the bill poses to our economy today. Notwithstanding the positive signs of economic recovery, these are still times of uncertainty. We need to be doing everything we can to demonstrate and reaffirm that Canada is a great place to work and also to do business.

That is the spirit behind Canada's economic action plan. We have shown all Canadians that our government is determined to take whatever steps are necessary to help citizens and Canadian businesses overcome the latest economic crisis.

Canada has done and continues to do a good job of weathering the economic storm and that is thanks to our highly educated, skilled, largely mobile modern workforce. It is also thanks to the strength of our banking system, the soundness of our nation's fiscal position, and our enviable record of low and stable inflation.

Let me take a moment to talk about the first key factor, our labour force, our workforce. Our government is investing wisely in Canada's workforce and that includes fostering good labour relations. We do this so Canadian workers and businesses can be competitive and strong in today's economy, and well into the future.

Bill C-386 stands in the way of our progress and the progress that we are making. Where we have worked hard to bolster confidence, the provisions in the bill would heighten uncertainty. Where we have invested wisely in the Canadian workforce, Bill C-386 would undermine the sense of balance that has helped build and sustain good labour relations in this country over several years.

Bill C-386 would result in wholesale changes to our federal labour law in Canada without consultation, without compromise, and without consideration for the fact that existing provisions work well.

Part I of the Canada Labour Code was enacted in 1999. This achieved an important balance, as I said at the outset, between the needs of workers and the needs of employers. This was the outcome of hard work and hard fought debates and compromise. These amendments followed after a lengthy and extensive review process involving wide ranging consultations with client groups. They also followed in the wake of an in-depth study by an independent task force of industrial relations experts. That is the context under which the compromise was made and the amendments made to the Canada Labour Code.

Back in 1999, just like today, the issue of replacement workers was highly divisive. Labour and management representatives held divergent views and were unable to reach a consensus, but a solution was found and it was in the form of a compromise.

As a result of amendments that were made to the Canada Labour Code, the use of replacement workers is not generally prohibited. However, the use of such workers for the purpose of undermining a union's representational capacity, including the pursuit of legitimate bargaining objectives, is prohibited and constitutes an unfair labour practice.

The majority of parties who engage in collective bargaining under the Canada Labour Code accepted this approach as a reasonable compromise. It did not give one side everything it wanted. Instead, through compromise there was balance and good labour relations benefited as a result. Canada benefited and our economy benefited. Those gains are all put at risk by Bill C-386.

I do not see anything in the bill's proposed provision that would help boost Canada's ability to create jobs and to be more competitive in today's economy. What I do see in the bill is a recipe for instability and uncertainty in Canadian labour relations.

This is not the first time that this matter has been debated in the House in recent years. The total number of legislative initiatives over the last two decades are too numerous to count. In my term in the House, numerous bills and motions have come in the same respect and with the same regard as this particular bill, but all of these attempts were eventually defeated. Why? Because a majority of members of the House recognized in every instance that attempts to legislate a ban on the use of replacement workers would be inherently harmful to labour relations and the economic health of Canada.

A common characteristic shared by some of the more recent legislative efforts is that they do not fully consider just how vital it is that a middle ground be maintained between unions and employers in the matter of replacement workers. It is a very important and delicate balance and a balance that must be maintained.

Bill C-386 defies well established facts about replacement worker legislation. First of all, 97%, and that is a high amount, of all collective bargaining disputes in the federal sector were settled last year without resorting to a strike or a lockout, often with the assistance of government-appointed mediators and conciliation officers.

Second, most federally regulated employers do not hire external replacement workers during a work stoppage. In the majority of cases, even when a dispute could not be avoided through good labour relations, employers reassigned management and other non-bargaining personnel to keep their operations functioning.

Third, several independent studies on the impact of replacement workers concluded that there is no empirical evidence to support the idea that banning replacement workers would lead to a decrease in the incidence of work stoppages and the number of person-days not worked.

In conclusion, it is important we recognize that a legislative proposal calling for the wholesale change to labour law in Canada poses a threat to the compromise that has been achieved and sustained between labour and employers in Canada. This proposal risks making our economy seem less stable and secure. It would create doubt when we need to reaffirm confidence. It would make it harder for all of us to focus on protecting and creating jobs. Just as important, it would undermine the balance achieved in labour relations.

As with each previous legislative attempt introduced in the House, Bill C-386 calls for amendments that would ultimately harm workers and undermine the labour peace that both sides have enjoyed for years. For that reason alone the bill should be opposed and defeated. There are a number of good reasons it should not go forward. It certainly should not go forward in the context of a private member's bill, particularly when there have been extensive hearings, extensive discussions, give and take on both sides, and a compromise that has been reached, a compromise that works, a compromise that has seen 97% of work disruptions settled and contracts negotiated, a good record.

When we find other jurisdictions that have used this type of legislation they have not reduced the amount of work stoppages. They have not seen a reduction in the number of strikes. In fact, it has been more litigious. There have been more applications to the Canada Labour Relations Board or to a like board. So when we look at the big picture, we do not need to disrupt what already works. The bill should be defeated. All members of the House should be encouraged to work against it and should vote against it to see that it does not become law.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Maria Minna Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to discuss Bill C-386 again tonight. I say “again” because, as members know, there have been 14 private members' bills and motions on this subject in the last 10 years alone. I supported many of those bills in the past, even though I thought at the time that there were shortcomings with the bills because of the concept or the idea.

However, I think it is important that we look at the history of this particular issue. The Sims report in 1999 reviewed part I of the Canada Labour Code. Most items at that time were agreed upon, except for the replacement workers, between the union and the employers. This was an area that they were not able to come to consensus on. I think we all know that, and it has been discussed in this House for some time.

It is important to note that under the current labour code there is no general ban on replacement workers. However, they cannot be used to break a union. This is an important thing to note.

There is always an attempt to create an important balance in the collective bargaining process. This is what the labour code tried to achieve at the time, but as I said, there was one area on which there was not agreement.

B.C. and Quebec have replacement worker bans. Maybe we need to start looking at some of these other examples that we have around the country.

In Quebec, for instance, the average work stoppage, according to the data that I have been looking at, was 43.8 days between 2005 and 2007. This is an area in which there is a great deal of debate as to the impact of this type of legislation, with respect to work stoppage. These are some of the figures.

Under the Canada Labour Code, the average stoppage was 41 days. As we can see, there is not a great deal of difference between the two.

In Quebec, there were 25 complaints to the Labour Relations Board regarding unfair use of replacement workers. Of those 25 complaints, 10 were upheld. Again this is another area that people raise as an area of contention. Since 1999, under the Canada Labour Code, there have been 23 complaints. None were upheld and one is still pending. So again, the numbers are really quite comparable. There is not a whole lot of difference between one or the other in terms of the arguments that one system would cause more of a burden than the other.

Under the proposed legislation, managers and directors could still be used as replacement workers. I think that has been made very clear in the bill. However, other replacement workers cannot be brought in. For instance, I think CN would have been eligible to bring in retired workers or retired engineers. I do not think that would be allowed under this legislation.

The arguments for and against this legislation have been made for quite some time. I just want to remind members of some of these arguments because I think they are important to note, and then I am going to talk about a couple of other specific things.

One argument against banning replacement workers made by people who do not support this is that there is a possibility of more strikes, that this would create more strikes in the system. This has not happened in Quebec. I know we have looked at that, and I have looked at it, and that does not seem to be the outcome of this type of direction.

Another argument is that it will upset the balance in collective bargaining, giving more power to the unions. Again, I do not know that it would necessarily be the case, but that is an argument that is made by many people.

Another is that it does not allow for an employer to continue operating his or her business during the strike. Again, I do not think that is case. Of course, the bill does mention that management would be allowed to replace workers, but of course, as I said, other workers cannot be brought in.

One argument also is that services that do not necessarily have an immediate threat to the health and safety of the public but have economic consequences could not function.

This model is quite different from the Quebec one in that it is true that if one looks at the function of telecommunications, transportation, and so on, they could be deemed essential services, but not for the purpose of health and safety necessarily. I do not think that CN, in the most recent strike, would have fallen under that category.

The arguments for banning replacement workers, made by those who support it, will talk about the fact that unions argue that it would encourage employers to bargain fairly, that by having this legislation, employers would be more likely to bargain fairly at the table rather than unfairly, as I guess is assumed to be the case right now.

These are some of the arguments that go against this type of legislation, which has been coming back to the House for quite some time. I think it is important for us to look at the one point that seems to come up over and over again. It seems to be the one that creates very strong differences of opinion on one side or the other, and that is the issue of essential services.

Under the current labour code, the definition of essential services is very limited. It is limited to immediate threats to public health and safety. That is quite restrictive. It is not as broad as what we have seen in Quebec. I will come back to that again in a little while. It is restricted to immediate threats to public health and safety. This is the definition in the Canada Labour Code.

During the OC Transpo strike here in Ottawa, for instance, it was not deemed a threat to health and safety; therefore, that strike, as we recall, went on for quite some time. Under the labour code, it was not deemed to be a threat to health and safety, therefore the strike went on for quite some time and there was no intervention on that.

The CN strike that we just averted or came out of recently in the last day would not have qualified for it either. It would not have been deemed a situation that posed an immediate risk to health and safety. Therefore, the strike got started and was going on, and again, in that instance, it would not have affected that.

In Quebec, the definition of essential services, which is where we come to the nub of all this debate, is quite broader. That changes the debate and the discussion altogether. This is very important to note, because if we ever come to some conclusion on this type of legislation in the House, we need to grapple with this particular issue in terms of the definition and then how we apply it and how it is structured.

As I said, in Quebec, this is very different. The definition of essential services is broader, but they also have an establishment called the Essential Services Council. I believe that is part of the legislation in Quebec. In this case, the employer and the union both come before the council if there is a strike. They both need to appear in front of the council if they have reached an impasse, as we have seen in other cases. The employer will state its case, that it is an essential service and that it cannot function without a certain number of employees without causing undue hardship, or something to that effect. The union then either states that it is not an essential service and tries to make that argument, or if it is and it agrees with that, it indicates how many employees it would need to provide that service. They both make a representation to the council. This is a very formal thing.

The council then makes a ruling on whether the service is essential and the number of employees who must work. They make that decision. So this is a very important thing.

It is not a threat or danger to the public, but rather, an economic issue. So it is broader. The issue is not just health and safety but also includes an economic issue in this case. An economic argument can also be made.

If the replacement worker ban were implemented in Canada, we would need a similar framework. I think we need to look at the way it has worked in Quebec. After 14 times in 10 years, the issue is not going away. Now is the time to work together to try to reach a consensus, and I think we need to do that. I would suggest that we come together in the House and try to have a discussion around some of that and see if we can come to some consensus.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 3rd, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's debate on the anti-scab legislation brought forward by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

As members here will know, I introduced a similar bill, Bill C-337, even earlier in this Parliament than the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that assigns our days for debate means we are debating Bill C-386 first, and I am good with that. In spite of the huge egos that some members bring to the House, it is not all about us. In fact, it should not be about us at all. We are sent here to represent the views and aspirations of our constituents and to protect their interests, not ours. Therefore, I do not care who brings forward solid pieces of public policy, I will stand in my place and proudly support them.

This, as has been said before, is not the first time we have debated anti-scab legislation in the House. Each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed the ban on replacement workers and the NDP and the Bloc supported it. Each time, the Liberals said all the right things, but when push came to shove and they had to stand and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.

Although I make no claims to be clairvoyant, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership, the Liberals will once again allow Bay Street to determine their vote and this bill too will be defeated. However, that does not mean it is not worth fighting for. In fact, it is now more crucial than ever.

Just this past Monday, we debated a motion related to back to work legislation. I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of a level playing field to the success of collective bargaining. I will not repeat the arguments here because I only have 10 minutes in today's debate. Suffice it to say that allowing employers to bring in replacement workers during a legal labour dispute negates entirely the only power that workers have at the bargaining table, and that is the right to withhold their labour. When workers are so unilaterally stripped of their power, they become desperate. The largest single cause of injuries on a picket line is the use of scab labour.

In Ontario we had a brief period of time when the NDP outlawed scab labour. The benefit of that legislation is beyond dispute. During the time that the ban on replacement workers was in effect, the strikes and lockouts were shorter. That benefited both workers and employers, but sadly, Mike Harris, who never let good public policy stand in the way of ideological politics, repealed the legislation as soon as he came to power. I guess that should be expected because it is also successive Conservative and Liberal governments that sold out our country to foreign businesses and allowed their culture of labour relations to flourish here.

Let me tell members how the American business model has impacted my hometown of Hamilton. In the last 20 years, we had watched business after business, representing thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs, be sold off to American corporations, only to shut their doors within months. They send in new plant managers and CEOs who have no personal stake in my community, do not bring their families to live among us and approach their new roles in the manner of colonial overlords. They do not want to be here and cannot wait to go home.

They reap huge individual bounty for short-term assignments and leave hundreds of devastated lives in their wake. They ignore the workplace culture and challenge the laws of the land. They defy the unions to take them on and even when they lose their challenges before the OLRB or the WSIB or the MOL, these employers continue to ignore the decisions to the brink of enforcement.

They even find ways around legislative protection for the disabled. They enter into agreements with the government of the day in bad faith, knowing that the deals are weak and likely unenforceable. They have closed plants and transferred standing product orders to U.S. facilities. They have locked workers out for no other reason than to take advantage of the current economic distress, thumbing their very noses at Canadian labour laws.

At the former Stelco plant, previously known as Hilton Works, U.S. Steel idled the blast furnace and curtailed production barely a year after acquisition. It forced hundreds to retire who were not, under normal circumstances, prepared to do so. It has recalled the remainder only so as to avoid severance payments while simultaneously locking out the workers at Lake Erie Works.

That is the new culture in the workplace, not just in Hamilton but at Vale Inco at Sudbury, at ECP at Brantford, and at countless other companies right across the country. Companies come into our country and tell Canadian workers that they want and need to change the culture of the workplace.

Let me remind members what that culture looked like in Canada. It was a culture in which workers had dignity, where workers were treated with respect, where workers were able to earn wages that provided a decent standard of living for them and their families. It was a culture where workers were able to bargain at the negotiating table with their employers for things like pensions and health benefits for their families. That is the culture we had in our country, a culture where workers could go to work in the morning and come home safely in the evening because we had health and safety standards in this country.

Was it a perfect world? No. There was plenty of room for improvement. New Democrats have been fighting for that at every possible opportunity. However, it was a far cry from what we see now, where companies come in and tell workers, “You are no longer able to expect to receive the very things that you have negotiated after decades and decades of bargaining. Not only can you not expect that any more, but we will put you on a picket line and we will have other workers come in and do your jobs until we break the backs of you and your union brothers and sisters”.

By failing to protect workers from these predatory employers, we are complicit in their corporate agendas. I, for one, refuse to play any part in that. Along with my NDP colleagues, I will fight that agenda every step of the way so workers have the protection of Canadian laws and we as legislators live up to the commitments we have made as signatories to UN and ILO conventions.

It is not just unionized workers who have a stake in this fight. Every Canadian does. In fact, it makes no sense that anyone would want to be a scab. In the end, those people are only hurting themselves.

In the type of economy that we have developed, where there are more and more unemployed and where people are earning lower and lower wages, sometimes family heads, women or men, feel compelled to take any job at any price. Although at first blush that is understandable, it is ultimately shortsighted.

The effect of scabbing, especially now when the theme in labour relations by the corporate world is to end defined benefit pension plans, when the agenda of the corporate world is to reduce wages and when the agenda is to reduce workforces, scabs simply join with that agenda. They endorse it, they support it, they advocate for it and they make that agenda possible.

In the end, they lose along with every other Canadian worker. It is no wonder that the very notion of a scab evokes such strong responses. Let me read just one quote:

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.

No man or woman has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in or a rope long enough to hang his body with.

Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army. The scab sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to this country; a scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.

That is what Jack London had to say back in 1905. More than a century has gone by, but many of the thoughts behind that quote are still as relevant today as they were then.

By voting for the anti-scab legislation before us today, I am voting for my country, my family and my class. I urge all members to join me in taking that stand.