House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

December 13th, 2011 / 5:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

moved that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), be read the second time and referred to committee.

—Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise today in this House to speak to a bill that is so important to many women throughout Canada. It is important to women's groups and also to the union movement, the people who represent working women and are concerned with health and safety issues.

The purpose of this bill is to allow pregnant or nursing women who work in businesses that are under federal jurisdiction to avail themselves of existing provincial occupational health and safety legislation governing preventive withdrawal. This is a very reasonable and necessary bill.

In the last election campaign, the NDP had the slogan “Travaillons ensemble”, meaning working together. We had a positive campaign, a campaign about ideas and people's real problems. In this regard, we said, and we still say, that parliamentarians have to work in the interests of the public, and so they have to work together. We also said that we had to help families. We said that in the NDP, but other parties were saying the same kind of thing. We said we had to listen to the needs of families. That is why I am proud today to speak to this bill again.

In Quebec, we often boast about how we are more progressive, but that is not always true and has not always been the case. Women won the right to vote only in 1940. And I would just note in passing that aboriginal people won the right to vote federally in 1960, and that is truly unbelievable. Since then, women have fought to have all their rights fully recognized. After many battles, they have achieved concrete recognition of their equality. In Quebec, it was not until 1979 that a maternity leave program for working women was implemented. In 2000, there was the Women's March, to send a loud and clear signal that the struggle for fairness and equality for women continued. That struggle still has to continue.

Perhaps members are unaware, but at present, when some working women in this country are pregnant and have to leave their workplace for their own safety or the safety of their fetus, their baby to be, they receive no compensation. They have to do it on their own dime, as they say. That is inconceivable. One might even say it is somewhat shocking.

We call ourselves an egalitarian society, we say that we recognize that women play an important role in the labour market, but at the same time, we penalize them when they are pregnant. We tell them that it is all very well for them to protect their health and the health of their fetus, but they will have to pick up the bill. Forgive me, but in our view, that seems a bit cheap.

In Canada, we have collectively provided ourselves with a social safety net of which we are rightly proud. It is in fragile shape today, but for many long years it has served our society, Canadian men and women, men and women in Quebec, well. It is a social safety net we must work to preserve today. In fact, it is this social safety net that protected us against the recent global economic crisis, because, as the IMF reminded us, a better distribution of wealth and lower levels of inequality allow for longer and more stable periods of economic growth.

So, we created a safety net for workers, because we recognized that, in certain situations, employees and wage earners in our country need to be protected. We recognize that, and occupational health and safety laws exist because dangerous situations are sometimes a reality. We also have an employment insurance program because sometimes—and these days it is more frequent than that, with 91,000 in two months—people lose their job.

However, when it comes to pregnant women, the government seems to be a little more stingy. Pregnant or nursing women have to do tasks or put up with working conditions that can be dangerous. The NDP does not accept that situation, and I am convinced that the majority of members in this House do not accept it either.

I am going to summarize the relevant Canada Labour Code provisions for those who are not familiar with them.

First, there are two levels of labour codes in Canada. We have the provincial codes and then the Canada Labour Code. The latter covers workers in several sectors, including the financial, air transportation, aerospace, telecommunications and transportation sectors.

In Quebec, 4.45% of women are covered by the Canada Labour Code, which means close to 75,000 women.

Under the bill that I am humbly submitting today, these 75,000 women would be potentially better protected if they experienced the joy of expecting a child.

In Quebec, we are very proud of the program that was put in place in 1981. It allows pregnant women who provide a medical certificate confirming that their work poses risks and dangers for their unborn child or for themselves to be reassigned to tasks that do not present these dangers.

Under this program, women receive 90% of their salary. The program recognizes that it is not right and that it is unfair to put on the victims the burden of occupational health and safety problems.

Unfortunately, the Canada Labour Code currently does not do that. With regard to preventive withdrawal, section 132 of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with pregnant or nursing employees, provides that when dangerous conditions exist, the employer may try to find an alternative. I insist on the term “may”. The employer is under no obligation to do so. If no alternative is found, these women must take a leave without pay. That is where the big difference lies. In these situations, the financial and economic burden rests on the shoulders of pregnant and nursing employees whose working conditions endanger their health, or that of their unborn child.

The question is, is this just? I wonder if it is an egalitarian policy and social vision. I wonder if it is consistent with our values, with the Quebec and Canadian values of equality between men and women, equality between workers, and of protection for people with health or safety problems.

Is forcing pregnant employees to work in dangerous conditions for both themselves and their fetuses the right way to treat them? The members of the NDP and I, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, do not believe so. I do not think that these women should be penalized. We in the NDP believe that the health of pregnant workers is important. I would go so far as to say that it is a priority.

If we want to encourage people to have children, and if we are serious about this, women must be provided with the best living and working conditions possible. They must have appropriate and safe conditions in which to work at all times.

I imagine that my colleagues from the Liberal and Conservative parties, and the other members who sit in this House share this opinion. At least, I hope so.

I am the father of a blended family with four beautiful children. I am lucky. I enjoyed good working conditions before having the honour of being elected to represent the constituents of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie in this House. My wife also enjoyed good working conditions. We both had a collective agreement that enabled us to take extended parental leave.

Today's topic is not parental leave. It is even more elementary than that. The subject is the health of thousands of workers and their right to be protected without paying for it. It is about pregnant women working in a standing position for over seven hours. It is about pregnant women lifting loads of over seven kilograms. It is about working environments that are too noisy. It is about ergonomics that put these women's pregnancy or the health of their fetus at risk. It is about being exposed to hazardous products. I could continue, as the list is long.

A study conducted in 2004 by Health Canada as part of the National Health Research and Development Program demonstrated the effectiveness of the provincial program in Quebec. The study showed that if exposure to ergonomic problems is eliminated early enough in pregnancy, the rate of premature delivery is the same as for women with no exposure. These and other such hazards have been eliminated. This is evidence that prevention works. For prevention to be successful, there should be no financial penalty. That is the current problem with the Canada Labour Code. It is the problem that this private members' bill seeks to address.

In the NDP, we believe that these women should not be penalized when their working conditions put their health or that of their babies at risk.

If we really want to help Canadian families, we must put our money where our mouth is. We must take concrete action. My bill does that and it is a good thing for Canadian and Quebec families. Its objective is to stop penalizing pregnant employees. It is a simple measure that will improve living conditions for these families and, therefore, for thousands of people.

The bill humbly does that. All we are saying is that pregnant women who work in a job that comes under the Canada Labour Code can avail themselves of the existing provincial occupational health and safety legislation if, of course, the latter is better.

That is not much to ask under the circumstances. My bill does that is six small subsections.

Subsection (1) provides that an employee may avail herself of “the legislation of the province where she works that relates to the applicable measures, including preventive withdrawal, transfer to another position and financial compensation to which she would be entitled under that legislation”. Subsection (2) defines the terms of the application, while subsection (3) refers to its processing. It provides that: “The agency referred to in subsection (2) shall process the application according to the legislation of the province applicable to pregnant or nursing employees in that province.”

Subsection (4) points out that employees may avail themselves of the remedies provided for in the provincial legislation. Subsection (5) gives to the federal government a mandate to enter into an administrative agreement with the provinces concerned. Incidentally, similar agreements already exist regarding health and safety. Employees who come under the Canada Labour Code are protected by the CSST in Quebec for workplace accidents, but not always for preventive withdrawal.

Finally, subsection (6) of my bill provides that the exercise by an employee of this right is without prejudice. The fact that an employee exercises a right must not result in retribution or penalties of any kind. This is a reasonable, modern, appropriate and necessary legislation. I hope there is unanimity for once in this House regarding the private members' bill that I am introducing today for second reading.

This is why I am asking all hon. members to support it, regardless of their political colours. I am asking that we recognize the contribution of women in the workplace, and that we recognize that they should never be penalized because they are pregnant or because they are nursing their child. I am asking for the support of my fellow parliamentarians to pass this bill, which will correct a major deficiency in the existing legislation.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech. Some of the members of the House know that I trained as a nurse and that I have begun occupational health and safety certification. I am therefore beginning to clearly understand these issues. I would like to say that the bill introduced by my colleague is excellent.

Are there any workers under federal jurisdiction who have been denied leave without pay or who have experienced major inconveniences because they do not benefit from the same legislative provisions as employees under provincial jurisdiction?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her very relevant question. The measures contained in this private member's bill respond to the desires of women's movements and unions representing female workers under federal jurisdiction. This is something that flight attendants who work for airlines have been requesting for years. It has become a priority for them because they have been penalized in their workplace as compared to female workers under provincial jurisdiction. They see the difference.

When they want to take care of their health and the health of their children, they have to do so by taking leave without pay. They can take the time, but the problem is that they are not being paid. They have to pay for this time off out of their own pocket or they have to take weeks of maternity leave in advance, which reduces the duration of their maternity leave by the same number of weeks since those weeks are subtracted from the period of leave to which they are entitled. In both cases, they lose out. This bill closes a gap and fills a real need. Representatives of women's organizations and labour organizations have been calling for such action.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I really appreciated the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie' comments and I thank him for his bill.

Obviously, it is now time to help Canadian families. We are not talking about huge amounts, since benefits are already being paid. I believe this bill should get the unanimous support of the House, as it takes concrete actions.

Could our colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie tell us whether women's groups have taken position and recognized that this bill could change how women experience motherhood? Are there any organizations that support the bill? Has he received any emails about it?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the relevant question.

Indeed, we are in contact with organizations with a strong interest in that issue. I want to reassure him straight away: centres focused on promoting women's involvement in the workforce support us on this. They have given us their support. The Fédération des femmes du Québec is in favour of the bill and has said so publicly. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents workers under federal jurisdiction, supports this bill, as do the FTQ and the Public Service Alliance.

All that to say, I think we should all agree, since it is a very important issue. Once the administrative agreement is in place, and for a minimal cost, this will be a concrete way to improve the lives of Canadian and Quebec families.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity today to comment on Bill C-307 presented by my colleague, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

This bill proposes adding another section to part II of the Canada Labour Code. This would bring the federal code in line with provincial legislation regarding the health and safety of pregnant or nursing employees.

In Quebec there is a program called “Pour une maternité sans danger”, the safe maternity program, which many pregnant workers use. A pregnant nurse, for example, whose job poses a risk to her health or that of her baby can be reassigned to another task or be allowed to take preventative withdrawal leave on the advice of her physician. If she must take leave, this pregnant nurse will receive an income or replacement benefit equivalent to 90% of her net insurable income.

It is clear that even if this is not spelled out explicitly, the intent of Bill C-307 is to give employees working in Quebec, but under federal jurisdiction, the possibility of getting the same access to the safe maternity program as employees under provincial jurisdiction.

I must admit that the issue raised by the bill is important to me, both as a woman and as a pediatric surgeon who spends most of the time taking care of children. I would be the first to say that pregnant and nursing women have the right to work in a safe environment. This is something that every Canadian would agree with.

Wherever we sit in the House, I am sure that we all want to protect those who give life, the infants they carry, and those who have been brought into the world. In fact, the Canada Labour Code formally recognizes this right. It includes several provisions, including maternity related reassignment or leave. These provisions give considerable protection to pregnant and nursing employees. I am not going to go into the details of these provisions, but generally speaking this is what they allow.

If there is a risk to the health of the employee, her fetus or her child, the employee can get a modification of her duties to be reassigned to another job without any loss of salary or benefits. If these measures are impractical, she can go on leave for as long as the danger persists.

Other provisions allow an employee to take leave during the period from the beginning of the pregnancy up to 24 weeks after childbirth if she is unable to work because of her pregnancy or nursing. This is in addition to regular maternity, parental or sick leave provisions under the code.

It is not my place to give an opinion on Quebec's safe maternity program, which, in principle, is very commendable. But one thing is sure: the program is very expensive.

To note, in a Canadian Press article that appeared at the beginning of November, it was reported that the cost of financing the program is 19 times higher than it was when it was first created. It now costs over $200 million per year, all of it financed by employees through a payroll tax. In Quebec, the same contribution rate, which is 19¢ on every $100 of employees' insurable earnings, is applied to all employees targeted by Quebec's preventative withdrawal program. This is regardless of the amount of benefits their employees receive.

If we assume that the same contribution rate would be applied to their current total salary envelope, employees under federal jurisdiction operating in Quebec, including the federal government, would be obliged to pay almost $20 million a year in contributions. However, given the relatively lower health and safety risks presented by most jobs under federal jurisdiction, it can be estimated the amount of benefits provided to employees would be approximately $5.4 million. In such a scenario, federally regulated employers would on average pay almost four times more into the program than their employees would take out. If only from a financial perspective, this would make no sense.

The financial aspect is one we cannot ignore, especially in these difficult economic times. That is perhaps why a report earlier this year, commissioned by Quebec's workers compensation board, recommended that the admissibility criteria for its program be tightened and that more effort was needed to encourage employers to accommodate pregnant and nursing employees. That is what our priority should be, to focus on allowing women to maintain their attachment to the labour force by ensuring that they work in a safe environment.

We have to consider the potential unintended consequences of the bill on workers that it is meant to help. Increasing business payroll taxes would hinder job growth and could lead some employers to reduce or eliminate benefits altogether for their employees. If Bill C-307 brought significant new benefits and protections for employees, this might also be a price worth considering, but it does not.

From a legislative point of view, Bill C-307 would also be difficult to implement. If Bill C-307 were adopted, many employers under federal jurisdiction would then be subject to most provincial and federal provisions on preventative withdrawal. This could create confusion in regard to the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees. Employees could try to take advantage of either their federal or provincial rights or remedies, choosing whichever system seemed to be the most advantageous under the circumstances. This would lead to problems in application of labour laws.

In addition, Bill C-307 would create disparities in the treatment of employees working in different provinces for the same employer. Given certain rights and benefits only in federal jurisdictions, employees located in one province and having such inequity enshrined in law would be unfair for employees working in other regions of the country. This sort of situation could lead to a complicated patchwork of disparities and legal obligations for employers under federal jurisdiction. Those operating in several provinces, including small companies which cannot afford professional legal or HR assistance, would face significant administrative difficulties.

Bill C-307 would also have the effect of blurring the lines of demarcation between jurisdictions of labour matters. The provinces could adopt laws that would apply to workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Such a development could have broad legal and policy ramifications.

It is clear that pregnant and nursing women have the right to work in an environment that is safe and healthy. If there is a risk to their health, that right is protected under the Canada Labour Code.

I would also point out that the vast majority of employees under federal jurisdiction are entitled to benefits under a disability insurance or sick leave program provided by their employer. Employees are also entitled to employment insurance benefits if they meet the eligibility criteria.

When we propose to make changes or additions to the Canada Labour Code, as is proposed in Bill C-307, we must ensure that we are carefully considering their implications, and weigh the pros and cons. That is what we have done as a responsible government.

After spending a great deal of time examining this bill and for all the reasons I just mentioned, we have decided to oppose Bill C-307 and we ask all members to do the same.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, a number of different points have been raised in debate and I think all members in the House share the opinion, the will and the want to ensure that pregnant and nursing women are well cared for and supported, as they should be.

From a Liberal perspective, our track record shows we have not just talked about this, but we have taken steps such as maternity leave through the employment insurance program and various undertakings over a number of years.

Bill C-307 is similar to a private member's bill put forward in the past by a member of the Bloc. I remember being in the House when it was debated. I do not see any changes from this legislation to the points that were raised the past legislation.

The concern then and the concern now is the impact this will have on provinces and how they have to respond to the legislation. It is really a case of dictating programs to the various provincial jurisdictions. I do not know if that is what our role and responsibility is here, and it was mentioned in the comments of my colleague, the parliamentary secretary.

I went through a process fairly closely with a former colleague, Ken Dryden, when he was a member of this chamber. We did cross-Canada contacts and stakeholders meetings when he worked toward the formation of a national child care program. What we took from those meetings and from that whole experience was that each province did things completely different.

The province of Quebec has a child care model that stands apart from other provinces. It is very well refined, whereas the province of Newfoundland is still trying to come to terms with and develop more of a broad-based system.

However, one thing Ken understood from his experience was that none of the provinces were willing to accept a national program. They could only do what they could do. They could improve what they were doing. They could support some of the initiatives they had undertaken. They believed in early education and child care, but they had to live within their means, as all governments do.

What had to be done was a series of one-offs, where the federal government embarked on a particular deal with each of the provinces. Investments were made. Those deals were certainly supported financially and dollars were transferred. However, it was not up to the federal government to dictate what a child care and early learning program should look like. That was clearly provincial jurisdiction. Ken and I took away from the experience that this was clearly within the purview of the provincial governments, but there was a role for the federal government to play.

As has been stated by the parliamentary secretary, and it is a belief that I share, there are provisions within the Canada Labour Code right now that protect the safety and security of pregnant and nursing women. Although well-intended and as noble as it might be, the legislation has the potential to further add to an inequality, where those women who work in a federal sector would have access to a higher level and a greater amount of support than other women who did not work in that sector.

The potential to add to inequality is real and I have not seen any changes in the legislation. That concern was raised when the Bloc introduced the legislation. I have not seen that change through this. If we were to go forward and support the legislation, I think we would constitutionally impinge on the jurisdiction of the provincial governments. It is tough enough to move legislation forward and be progressive in areas of federal jurisdiction, but when we try to impart that on the provinces, they are not all that willing.

The additional risk is it would further complicate an already complicated area, where we see provincial labour laws and provincial codes apply as well as an overlap of federal labour laws and labour codes.

We dealt with legislation four years ago. Cape Breton had a subsea mine and federal labour codes applied to that specific operation, the Cape Breton Development Corporation. When the federal government got out of the mining business, the province wanted to assume and further develop the coalfields in Sydney. To try to streamline that, we had to pass legislation in the House that would enable the province to assume responsibility to have that mine operate under provincial labour codes and to be monitored by provincial labour standards. It was a rigorous process, but nonetheless we were able to get through it.

However, when we look at all 10 provinces and the varying degrees of support that are awarded by each of those provinces and when we look at where the Canada Labour Code currently extends into this issue, then it calls into question whether it is wise or prudent or if it is our responsibility to move forward with this type of legislation.

Again, our caucus has seen the legislation before. We did not think it was the cleanest of legislation. Although we support pregnant and nursing women, we do not think the legislation is one that makes a great deal of sense to support. It further draws a greater inequality between those who are in federal sectors and those who are not.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Madam Speaker, I am really very proud to rise in this House today to stand up for the rights of working women in Canada.

I want to lend my support to Bill C-307 because I think it is a good thing, it is something that is logical and necessary for the provinces of Canada. This is not just a law that will strengthen our federation; it is also a law that affects the rights of women in our country. I think there are many reasons why all parties in this House, as a government, are going to be able to work together in a non-partisan debate. I am convinced that as the government of Canada, we want to be sure that our federation stays strong and the injustices that women suffer are eliminated.

I believe in a policy of bringing people together, a policy that will be equal in all provinces. I hear my colleagues in the other parties talking to me about inequality. This bill is one that my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has introduced precisely so that we will be more equal everywhere in Canada. I wonder whether the others have really understood the essence of this bill.

The reason why I believe in this bill is that the history of Canada shows that the federal government takes the social legislation of the provinces into consideration.

What we are saying in Bill C-307 is that there is legislation in Quebec, good progressive legislation to protect working women's rights, and that all of Canada should be able to benefit from it. We believe that preventive withdrawal legislation should apply to all working women in all provinces. While everyone works together to improve the lives of people in their own province, it is up to us, in the federal government, to do that for our country. It is important that the federation not take away the social progress achieved by the provinces. That is an injustice, and it is our job as parliamentarians to put a stop to injustices.

The debate today relates to an injustice that is truly important to me. Women's rights are of crucial importance in this world, and particularly in Canada. It is inconceivable that in this country we should have legislation that discriminates against nearly 50% of our population. The purpose of Bill C-307 is to enable pregnant or nursing women who are subject to the Canada Labour Code to be able to avail themselves of provincial legislation governing preventive withdrawal when that legislation is more beneficial.

At present, only Quebec has a preventive withdrawal program. Since 1981, pregnant women have been able to receive 90% of their wages before their delivery if their job is considered to be too dangerous for them or their child. This means lifting loads of more than 7 kg, interacting with people who may potentially be dangerous to the woman or the child, being exposed to noise levels that are dangerous to the woman or working in a standing position for over seven hours.

Women who live in the province but work for federal institutions—that is, who are subject to the Canada Labour Code—do not have access to this kind of program at present. They are subject to the Canada Labour Code, which ignores the rights of pregnant or nursing women. Women may take unpaid leave, but that is all, even though their colleagues who work next door are able to benefit under the Quebec legislation.

Here is a concrete example. I worked as a teacher in a provincial detention centre. I was replacing a person who was on preventive withdrawal, because working in a detention centre is dangerous. That person was really pleased to be able to avail herself of that right and I replaced her. I would feel kind of silly if I told a teacher working in a penitentiary that it is dangerous for her to work in that environment. If she worked in a detention centre, she could leave, but because she is teaching in a penitentiary and cannot get an alternative job, she must take a leave without pay if she wants to be on preventive withdrawal.

This is supposed to be a country where people are encouraged to have children. Our demographic situation is all upside down. In some regions, there are more people over the age of 50 than under it. However, we are telling a woman who wants to have a child that she must give up her salary. That is unfair and unjust.

The hon. member opposite raised an economic argument.

I was really appalled and upset to hear that because, according to the Library of Parliament, the costs could reach $11 million annually. I agree that this may look like a lot of money. However, another study was carried out by Dr. Robert Plante, and published in Le Médecin du Québec magazine in November 2004. Based on an average of 50,000 pregnant women, there were, among those who did not have access to preventive withdrawal, 375 cases of low gestational weight, 460 premature delivery and, what is worse, 340 fetal deaths. This means that out of 50,000 pregnant workers, we would spend $11 million to save 340 children a year.

Members opposite are saying that it is too expensive. Personally, I earn money and I pay taxes at the federal and provincial levels. It seems to me that we could try to invest that money in social programs. But I am told it is too costly. So, we will let 340 children die, even though they would eventually have paid taxes and help correct our demographic situation, all this because the government says it costs too much money. That is a very weak argument and I hope our friends in the other parties will realize that. The government talks about stimulating the economy. It seems to me that people who are born and who work help do just that.

I spoke of my experience replacing someone. This legislation would help the 75,000 women in Quebec who work under the Canada Labour Code.

Some hon. members say this is unfair to the provinces. We have to look at the basics. We currently have a good program in Quebec. We are trying to extend it so that those who work under federal jurisdiction can benefit from it. If some believe this creates inequalities and that it is not fair, then let us extend it Canada-wide. This is just the first step in telling women everywhere who work full time that their job is a little bit dangerous, that they need to take time to have children, because we need children in our society, and that we are going to give them the means and tools to do so.

The bill has been applauded by several women's groups including the Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail and the Fédération des femmes du Québec. The Canadian Union of Public Employees did not tell us this was illegal with regard to the provinces, but that this progressive bill would help 75,000 women in Canada, that we needed to start there and then we would see what could be extended to the rest of Canada.

I am truly in favour of the bill by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. This bill will help Canadian and Quebec women and will restore some justice in this country where we ask women to have children, go to work and take care of the home. I think this bill is a very good thing. I encourage every member in the House to think about it and put partisan debates aside in order to pass this bill. I invite everyone to vote in favour of this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I have no qualms whatsoever about supporting the bill introduced by my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. Moreover, I would like to thank him for rising in this House to speak about the rights of pregnant and nursing women. This bill is particularly important to me. Women and their cause have always been at the heart of my social, community and political outreach work.

Women are increasingly present in the workforce. Since the early 20th century, the presence of women has been consistently on the rise. In 1901, women accounted for 13% of the labour force and by 1951 this rate had jumped to 23%. Women in the workforce were predominantly single in the past. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1951 the Canadian labour force comprised only 11% of married women whereas by 1994 the rate had jumped to 57%.

This is no longer the case however. The labour market has changed. The role of women has also changed. There were very few women in this House 20 years ago. The first woman elected was Agnes Macphail in 1921. There were four women in the House of Commons in the 21st Parliament. The threshold of 20% female representation was only reached in 1997.

Today, there are 76 women in this House, including 40 in the official opposition. This is an unprecedented number in the history of Canada. Many of us are doctors, teachers, lawyers, and the list goes on. We have completed graduate studies. One only has to look at the composition of this House to see how the role of women has evolved. It would be very hypocritical and most unrealistic to infer that women in the labour force face the same challenges as their male counterparts.

The number one challenge is, obviously, wages. The fight for pay equity in this country is not over. Only a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion on a dispute that had lasted for over 28 years between Canada Post and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Another challenge women face in the labour market has to do with maternity. We now finally have a maternity leave program. It is not perfect, but it is a lot better than it used to be. But that is not the only challenge. Women who go on maternity leave can still end up getting transferred or missing out on promotions due to their absences. That is far from ideal. Women still have to qualify, under the federal program, for employment insurance, which is not the case for everybody, like for self employed women for instance. There are also part-time employees, a group where women are overrepresented. I find that the Quebec parental insurance plan, a more generous plan than its federal equivalent, is better geared towards women, but that is not the crux of my speech today.

Among the other issues tied to maternity is preventative withdrawal. Given the nature of the work some women do, and because of complications, some women who fall pregnant are unable to work. These women cannot, for health issues and the safety of their child, continue to work.

In Quebec, provincially regulated women employees have access to the CSST if their employer cannot find tasks that will not endanger them or their child. For women working in companies that are federally regulated, it is a nightmare. They are permitted to take leave until they see their doctor. However, once the doctor has certified that they can no longer carry out their duties, their employer is under the obligation to transfer them to other duties. This, however, is not always possible.

Then they have two options. The first one is to continue to work despite all the risks and dangers involved. That choice may put both mother and child at risk and create complications during pregnancy. However, it ensures financial security. The second option is to take a leave without pay, which deprives the mother and her child of a much needed income. Women are more at risk of living in poverty. They are more likely to hold precarious and part-time jobs. There are also more single moms. Let us also not forget that there are more poor women than poor men. These women are already in a difficult financial situation, and sudden changes in their income can get them caught in the vicious cycle of poverty and indebtedness.

It is inconceivable that a woman should have to choose between financial survival or her health and safety. It is an abomination and a disgrace. We know that pregnant women are under a huge financial stress. They must find furniture and diapers for their baby. Sometimes, they must find a larger place to live. Pregnancy is also the time when women must be most careful with their diet. It is very difficult to make healthy choices and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, when one can only afford Kraft Dinner. The mother's diet can have long term effects on a child's health. Pregnancy is not the time to be stingy and to deprive women of financial resources.

This bill will help close to 75,000 women in Quebec benefit from CSST's protection. We are talking about 75,000 women who will not have to choose between their health and safety or their financial security. These women will be able to focus on eating well and on preparing for the arrival of their child. Should other provinces decide to follow Quebec's example and provide protection through their provincial occupational health and safety agency, this bill will protect an even larger number of women.

The government should accept this legislation, which only restores equality between women and men across Canada. I urge all hon. members to support this bill. It is a matter of justice, of equality and of public health.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (pregnant or nursing employees), which has been proposed by my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. I want to commend him for bringing forward this important legislation.

In terms of the context, currently in Quebec women who are pregnant and nursing have some protection in the workplace if they are covered under Quebec labour laws. However, women who are not under Quebec labour laws but are under Labour Canada do not have the same protection. What the member has proposed would apply to women across Canada if their provincial governments had similar legislation.

I want to quote from the International Labour Organization, which states:

Maternity protection has been a core issue for the International Labour Organization...and informs the work of the Canadian Labour Congress. ILO member States have adopted the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) which states that “the need to provide protection for pregnancy...are the shared responsibility of the government and society” and extends coverage to all employed women, regardless of occupation or type of undertaking (including women employed in atypical forms of work).

That is an important context because the key words to the statement are a shared responsibility of the government and society. I would argue that this shared responsibility is something we in the House should talk about when we talk about pregnant and nursing women in the workplace. It is always interesting to hear people talk about family values and yet when legislation is brought forward, which is designed to protect that very family, members in the House talk in opposition. That is a shame.

A number of organizations across Canada are in support of the legislation. I want to quote CUPE, which applauds the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. It states that this:

—would extend provincial measures governing the paid protective reassignment of pregnant employees to workers under federal jurisdiction. This would include areas such as air and rail transportation, banking, communications, ports and armoured car services.

At present, protective reassignment means that pregnant workers in occupations subject to the Canada Labour Code receive Employment Insurance benefits equivalent to 55 per cent of their pay. For every week of benefits, their maternity leave is reduced by a week. In essence, this amounts to leave without pay.

In effect, if some workers are forced to take an unpaid leave of absence from their work, it actually impacts on their ability to provide care for their children and to provide financial support to their families.

One might ask why this is important and what it is about workplaces that could be unsafe. A number of organizations have talked about the workplace pregnancy risk assessment. I want to point to one that is available, which states:

Why A Workplace Pregnancy Risk Assessment Matters

This comes to the heart of this. We are talking about health and safety in the workplace. This document states:

Workplace risk assessments during pregnancy are especially important because there can be a lot of hazards even in what may seem like the safest of offices.

That is the important point. We are talking about a workplace where normally the woman is very capable of performing the duties in the workplace, but in some situations, when a woman is pregnant or nursing, there are things about it that now make it unsafe for her. She fully intends to return to that workplace, and in most cases we have laws in place where a woman's right to return to work after pregnancy is guaranteed.

However, in this case, this workplace pregnancy risk assessment goes through a number of factors, but I will touch on three. It talks about lifting risks, chemical risks and standing risks. There are a long list of activities that fall under those lists, which would say that it is not a safe place for the woman to work while she is pregnant or nursing.

With respect to chemical risks, I think anyone who has been a mother and has nursed can imagine working in an environment where the breast milk could become contaminated because the woman ingests something in the workplace. Surely we would not women working in those kinds of circumstances. In some cases, the employer is simply not able to reassign the woman to other duties. The workplace may not have those other opportunities. In those cases, the woman requires some financial support until she is able to return to the workplace. This is exactly what Bill C-307 attempts to address.

Many other organizations have been in support of this and I want to specifically quote the Alberta Federation of Labour. It passed a resolution stating that it would work with affiliates, labour councils and the Canadian Labour Congress for the adoption of protective reassignment legislation.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have five minutes remaining for her intervention when this bill returns to the House.

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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, in my question on November 4, I asked the minister to explain his act of misleading the committee and why he deliberately refused to meet the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Knowing this minister's tactics, I should not have been surprised by the minister's deceptive and misleading response when he claimed that the board refused to meet with him. That, as the board has since confirmed, was not true.

In fact, every action the government has taken in its fevered efforts to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board was summed up in the Federal Court decision of December 7 as being “an affront to the rule of law”.

The minister claims he represents farmers, and cites the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and Western Barley Growers Association on every occasion. These organizations, by their own admission, have gone from 3,130 members to about 730 members, not all of whom reside in western Canada.

Clearly this is a government that believes freedom can be given by destroying democracy. This is a government that has brought forward legislation based upon deception and lies. It is a government that has used threats, intimidation, firing and gag orders on the board. This is a Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who has the gall to stand in front of western farmers and tell them that he would do nothing until farmers decided to make a change to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Farmers, the minister said, “are absolutely right to believe in democracy. I do, too.” He again broke his word, because he never held the vote under section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act that would have allowed farmers to have that voice. In fact, the Federal Dourt has said, as I indicated a moment ago, that it was “an affront to the rule of law”.

This is a government whose parliamentary secretary claimed in this House that the Canadian Wheat Board of 1943 was the same as the CWB today. This deliberately ignored the fact that legislation was brought forward in 1997 which allowed an elected board of farm directors to control and manage the board.

This is a Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food who will now deliberately expropriate the property of farmers and will appoint five of his cronies, his hacks or those he wants to pay off to direct the Wheat Board. This will change the Canadian Wheat Board from being run by an elected board of farm directors to being run by a few hacks controlled by the Government of Canada.

To whom do these political appointees answer? Where do they get their direction and marching orders? From the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's office itself.

This is a minister who just increased the contingency fund to $200 million, a fund that he and his hard cronies can manipulate as they wish, a point confirmed by the deputy minister of agriculture himself.

I will conclude by saying that when faced with a government that is guided by the same moral compass as a bully, as a thug, it should come as no surprise that extraordinary measures are required.

The Prime Minister is fond of declaring that he would like Canada to reflect certain provisions of the BNA Act, in terms of the federal relationship to other levels of government. Section 55 of that act, long in disuse but still contained in the Constitution document, provides the Governor General with the option of withholding or reserving assent to legislation.

Bill C-18 is premised on a violation of law. Its very genus is based on an affront to the rule of law. Perhaps the Governor General should give consideration to using section 55 to deny this—

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board.